Covid-19 crisis: 80% MSMEs in Sonipat hub await their turn to open

Before the lockdown, workers were paid Rs 8,000-9,000 a month for nine hours of work per day. Now they will get the same salary for working 12 hours per day.
The Kundli industrial area on the Delhi-Sonipat border, which houses more than 800 medium, small and micro enterprises (MSMEs), is still eerily quiet. Even after relaxation in lockdown norms and factories being permitted to swing back into action, more than 80 per cent of the units are shut. And those that are open, are working at sub-optimal pace.  

Standing outside a plastic packaging unit, Ritu, her face half-covered with dupatta, waits her turn so that her temperature can be checked, after which she will go through a sanitization process at the entry gate. All the factories that have opened up have similar exercises going on during the morning hours. 

Ritu is back at work after two months. Did she get her salary during this time? “A portion only, just enough to make ends meet,” she says, quickly scurrying inside.  

Others were not so lucky. In the Gaunder labour colony in Kundli, workers are agitated. They have not been paid for two months, and neither have they received any government rations.

We were not paid wages. The government supply also did not reach us. The only saving grace is that we did not have to pay rent,” says Shrinath, 36, who lives in the colony.

Srinath and and his co-workers are now being asked to work 12 hours per day for the same wage as before. Before the lockdown, they were paid Rs 8,000-9,000 a month for nine hours of work per day. 

Sprawled across 1,200 acres, the Kundli industrial area manufactures readymade garments, utensils, metal components, plastic packaging, textiles and allied products.

It is most famous for its stainless steel, and this industry alone employs close to 200,000 people here. 

 
But the once bustling manufacturing hub is a ghost of its former self.     

It’s not just that many units are yet to open; discontent festers in the labour colonies with overflowing drains, close-built quarters and shared toilets.

The only ‘social distancing’ that the labour know about here is that the factories are to work with 40-50 per cent man power at any given time, thereby cutting into their employment opportunities. “Look at my factory floor. Do you think my 175 workers can work together and still maintain one meter distance,” asks the owner of a factory that makes packaging for medicines and is working with about 50 people now.  

“The demand is tepid now, so we can manage with less production and people. But when demand improves, it will be difficult to adhere to social distancing guidelines. It is easy for policymakers to ask us to have shifts and rotation of employees, but these rules are difficult to execute,” he says. 

Subhash Gupta, chairman of the Kundli Industrial Area, says it is contradictory on the part of the government to send labour back home while asking industries to restart operations. “The government is offering us loans. We do not need loans. We need infrastructure — better roads and electricity at reasonable costs,” says Gupta, adding that the loan scheme is to help the “big guys, not smaller industries.” The call for “Vocal for Local” and indigenous products would be possible only when industry is supported through low-cost infrastructure, he adds.

Gupta reveals that only two out of 10 factory owners can come to their units now, since most of them live in Delhi and the Haryana government is not issuing more than a one pass per week per person. About 8 km away, in the Rai industrial estate, the number of factories that have opened up are fewer than that in Kundli. Rai has close to 800 units, mostly involved in food processing, printing, packaging, machines and equipment, auto parts, among others.

Arvind Manchanda, treasurer, Rai Industrial Association, asserts that none of the schemes announced by the government stands to benefit the MSMEs. Manchanda, who runs a pharma packaging unit, says his export business has been badly hit. 

“My products are not meant for the domestic market, but the government has shut the export market for the welfare of the domestic market. The Centre had two months to come up with a prudent policy. But the current reforms create more hurdles.

Why am I being given loans? I have been in this sector for decades. I can get a loan. What I want is a bus provided by the state government to ferry my employees, some rebate in electricity bills and immediate opening up of businesses,” says Manchanda. 

His factory is now equipped with sanitisation facilities at every corner. However, he points out that this is an additional cost, which the government is not sharing in any way. “On the face of it, the relief package looks good, but there is no indication of who gets how much. The demand is slow and this will hurt the companies and the sectors,” he says.

The workers do not display any enthusiasm about the relief package either. Ravi, who works at one of the factories in Rai, says he has read about the Rs 20-trillion package. “Bahut bada package hai par samajh mein nahi aaya mujhe kitna milega (It is a huge package, but I didn’t understand how much I will get from this),” he says. Ravi could not go back home in Uttar Pradesh and here, his work is yet to start. He was last paid in April, and nothing yet in May.



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