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Notes ban triggers labour migration in Bundelkhand

Babloo, a stone-crushing unit worker, stands in front of his hut in Bharatkoop village in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh | Vikram sharma

It’s been 24 hours since Munni had a plate full of rice to eat. For tonight’s meal, she and her two brothers and parents have half a roti each. Her father Babloo worries how he will arrange food tomorrow.

Things began to go bad when the local stone crushing unit was shut down a few months ago due to legal tangles and Babloo and other labourers had to take up other jobs. Most of them enlisted as daily wage labourers under a contractor who paid them between Rs 500 and Rs 700. And then came demonetisation on Nov. 8. The contractor suddenly stopped work as he had no money to pay the labourers.

More than 1.50 lakh labourers across Bundelkhand, particularly in and around Bharatkoop, are sitting idle. Many have left for other places in search of work, leaving behind their families.

“I used to earn about Rs 800 per day in the stone crushing unit. One day, it was abruptly closed. I was worried how I would feed my family. But luckily, all of us here were called by a contractor who took us in as daily wagers. But after demonetisation, the contractors told us they have no money to pay us,” Babloo says.

His wife, Rupa, takes up the story: “For the last 15 days, I have been borrowing rice from my neighbours but now even they have run out of food. But demonetisation has shattered us completely. No one is bothered about our fate.”

A few metres from Babloo’s hut is the house of Dayaram where his family, his wife and two children stay. Dayaram left home in search of livelihood 10 days ago. The family is borrowing food from neighbours. “He left home looking for work. I don’t know when he will return. It is getting difficult to carry on with life. The children are going without food most days,’’ says his wife, Munni.

According to Suresh Kesarwani, the contractor, the going was smooth till demonetisation. “Initially after Nov. 8 we managed to pay our labourers. But as the days passed, it became difficult to get cash. I had no other option but to stop work. All other contractors have done the same as despite making endless rounds of banks there was no money. I think the situation will continue like this for a few more months,” he says.

In Bharatkoop alone, there were over one lakh of labourers who earned their livelihood by working in the stone crushing units located there. “They continue to stay there in the hope that the factories will start functioning soon. But then came demonetization,’’ says another contractor, Neelkanth.

A local BJP leader, Munna, told me that he and his fellow party workers are trying to do their bit for the labourers. “We are talking to other contractors in Bundelkhand and asking them to employ these labourers. But not many are willing to go far,’’ he said.

Asked demonetisation, he trots out what senior BJP leaders have been saying to the nation: “The situation will improve soon. Demonetisation is for the good of the people.”

In Banda district, some 50,000 labourers have been badly hit by demonetisation.

“Some have left for Lucknow, others for Allahabad, Varanasi, Meerut, Ghaziabad and Noida. Under the prevailing circumstances, I’m unsure whether they can get jobs easily as no one has money to pay,’’ says Shiv Prasad Sony, another contractor. He says that the government ought to have thought about the poor.

Source: The New Indian Express