“I don’t know who is better off. The labourers who fled and might not find job when they come back or me? I stayed back but I’m struggling to even buy daily groceries,” said Manoj Shukla, who works in a plastic products factory in Okhla Industrial area.
Shukla used to enjoy the bustle in the area. The crowd on the streets used to be a mix of young management graduates in their crisp white shirts sipping tea at a nearby thela and daily wager labourers like him out on a break from factories making everything from electronics to drugs.
Okhla Industrial Area is an amalgam of corporate offices on one side and the factories of micro, small and medium enterprises on the other. The din and clamour have gone. Streets are lined with trucks who have nowhere to go.
Others like Shukla live in areas surrounding the factories — Harkesh Nagar, Sanjay Colony, Sanjay Nagar, and low income housing blocks in Okhla Phase-II. All of them work in the MSME industry and they all know the sector is too small to survive the onslaught of the pandemic and the economic slowdown that will ensue.
According to the MSME Ministry’s annual report for 2018-19, New Delhi has 936,000 registered companies employing close to 2.3 million skilled and semi-skilled labourers.
“This is a situation where not much can be done. Whatever the government is doing is outstanding. But at the grass roots level, the confusion still remains. They have asked us to pay full wages. But the labourers have fled. Without them, we can’t ramp up production of hand sanitizer,” said Pradeep Multani, chairman, Multani Pharmaceuticals.
Only 25 per cent of his normal work force is present. Multani is paying their salaries and providing food. He said his units are ready to produce and dispatch hand sanitisers.