A recent survey amid the nationwide lockdown has found that over 85 pc of informal workers have already seen a drop in income by 50 pc to 70 pc.

No income food security Activists demand safeguards for Ktakas informal sector
Delve Law, Order and Justice Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 20:27

In the wake of the 21-day nation-wide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, activists and labour unions in Karnataka have demanded that the state government announce concrete measures to compensate economically-disadvantaged workers both in the organised and unorganised sectors.

With the onset of restrictions imposed as part of the nation-wide exercise, workers, both from Karnataka and from other states, are not only at risk of losing out financially but also living without basic food in the coming days without any intervention.

Speaking to TNM, Vinay Sreenivasan, an activist and lawyer based in Bengaluru, explains there are three primary issues that the government has to ensure. Firstly, there has to be a universal income and an universal food/ ration guarantee.

"Other than this, the government has to give directions to schools so that they don't ask for fees for the next year and waive off the electricity bill for this month. Similarly, most of the poor migrants live in rented places, so there is a need to ensure that these people are not evicted. If people can't stay here or starve, they will go back to their villages and again, they have to look for their livelihoods from scratch," he points out.

“There is a need for an inter-departmental task force formed by the government which can ensure that these are delivered and a practical plan be drawn,” he adds.

Vinay works closely with All India Central Council of Trade Unions – Karnataka (AICCTU), Karnataka Domestic Workers Rights Union, Garment and Textile Workers Union (GATWU) and the Savithri Bai Phule Mahila Sanghatane. These organisations have jointly conducted a survey to study the instant impact of COVID-19 on the informal economy.

The survey, titled ‘Coping with COVID-19 Pandemic: An interim report into the health awareness, livelihood security and food security among workers in Bengaluru’, has found that 87.5% of workers have already lost 50 to 70% of their incomes since the onset of the crisis.

Kaleemullah, a Bengaluru-based activist with Swaraj Abhiyan who advocates for the cause of migrant labourers, says there is a grave situation across migrant workers’ settlements in the outskirts of the city where many from north Karnataka and other states reside.

These workers include hawkers, carpenters, cleaners, construction workers, plumbers, delivery personnel, among others.

“There is a lot of fear among the residents as the situation is likely to remain for the next two months. People have to pay their loans and people mostly rely on their daily/ weekly incomes. If there is a shortage of money, they have to cut down on their rations. As it is, the nutritional condition of the children living in these slums are bad and if the situation persists without any intervention, it will only aggravate,” he states.

Ranga Chand, a resident of one of the settlements in Kundalahalli, says, “There are a lot of people who are idle at home. While there is no income, there is a rise in the price of vegetables. It is not that we can return home in this situation or work there. So we are in a place with no solution in sight.”

Activists demand that the state come up with plans similar to Delhi and Kerala where free food/ ration has been arranged for the poor along with other benefits.

Food security

On Sunday, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa announced that every household would get free ration in advance for the next two months.

This, however, would not apply to people who don’t have a ration card in the state, which includes a majority of migrant workers.

While the Karnataka government had announced that food would be served in Indira Canteens in Bengaluru for free, partially following High Court orders, it was withdrawn due to heavy crowding.

Live Law had quoted Justice G Narendar as saying, "I am making this request as a responsible citizen. Please see that food packets are prepared at Indira canteens and distributed to these daily wage employees who've lost their earnings. These are difficult times and only a 'humane approach' can save us from the disastrous and unfortunate situation."

Even as the provision of free food at Indira Canteens has been withdrawn, there has been no assurance from the state government on how the government would help mitigate the issue of hunger for the poor, especially the urban poor.

A section of activists based in Bengaluru, following a discussion with a set of scholars and experts, are advocating a two-pronged approach.

They concluded that there has to be a method of delivery of uncooked food and distribution of cooked food. This is because several people are homeless or have no kitchen and thus cannot use food packets.

For these people, cooked food like in Delhi must be given through Indira Canteens, night shelters and anganwadis. It must be made available free, three times a day and centres should be widely publicised.  

Food packets (with rice, wheat, ragi, dal, eggs, jaggery, cooking oil, free cooking gas, salt, masala powder, immunity building foods, etc.) have to be delivered bi-weekly.

They called for the announcement of the delivery schedule beforehand to avoid confusion.

The set of experts they consulted include Professor Ramakumar R, TISS (Tata Institute of Social Scientist); Sasikanth Senthil, former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer; Dr Sylvia Karpagam, Public Health Researcher and Advocate, Clifton D’Rozario, former Advisor to Supreme Court Commissioners on Food Security, Anivar Aravind, Researcher and Professor Rajendran Narayanan (Azim Premji University).

Economic security

While the state government and central governments have passed diktats to companies not to terminate employees or withhold full wages to workers at this time, there is no such relief assured for all unorganised workers.

TNM could not reach the Labour Minister for a comment.

On this issue, speaking with TNM, Karnataka Labour Secretary, Captain Manivannan said. “The Chief Minister has announced Rs 1,000 to all construction workers. We have also made ration available to all who have cards, either Karnataka state cards or other state cards. He further said those labourers who did not register with the Department have to do so now. We will do that after 21 days.”

The bulk of other workers, part of the informal economy, have nothing to look to in times of crisis.

The All India Central Council of Trade Unions, in a meeting with state Labour Minister Shivram Hebbar, submitted a 32-point demand to ease the financial stress of these workers.

Their primary demands included declaration of an emergency fund (Rs 14,000 per month) for the next two months and declaration of a moratorium on the recovery of loans by persons or institutions.

They also demanded that all workers under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) get payments due to them by the first week of April.

The AICCTU also demanded that app-based gig economy workers like drivers of Ola, Uber, auto rickshaw and delivery personnel of platforms like Zomato, Swiggy, etc be provided relief.

Similarly, the United Food Delivery Partners’ Union in Bengaluru has asked for a six-point relief measure from the Labour Department.

These include Rs 1,000 as salary to all those delivery partners who log-in every day and provision of masks and sanitisers for delivery personnel.