Mumbai’s infrastructure projects have taken a hit due to the large-scale reverse migration of labourers and the difficulty in supply of construction materials and machines due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority or MMRDA, the government body responsible for the development of the city’s infrastructure, including roads, flyovers, bridges and the metro, said that over 75% of the workforce employed by the authority has now “disappeared”, and that bringing the workers back at present looks difficult.
“When the lockdown started, we had 13,000 labourers. In the first phase of the lockdown, we provided them with food and medical facilities to ensure they were well taken care-of. During phase 2 and 3 of the lockdown, when some relaxations were given, work started and we had a maximum workforce to the tune of 16,000-17,000 workers across all our projects,” R A Rajeev, commissioner, MMRDA said.
The problem, he said, began when Shramik Train services for migrant workers started opening up and the number of COVID-19 cases began to spike in Mumbai.
“Despite being taken care of, our workers told us they were getting constant calls from home and wanted to go home. The whole fear psychosis began.”
“Our current strength of workers has come to 3,000 at present from 17,000 workers, which has seriously affected our infrastructure projects and will continue to affect in the future,” Rajeev said.
“We are in a period of uncertainty and facing very difficult times as far as infrastructure construction is concerned. We cannot predict when our projects will start functioning fully,” he added.
The MMRDA is undertaking construction of the multiple metro rail projects in Mumbai.
Supply of Material Improving
A critical factor leading to delays was also the disruption in supplies of materials as various factories producing raw material and machinery across the country, and outside, had to be shut down in the wake of the lockdown restrictions.
“Different factories (supplying material to us) also got affected by lockdown. Some of our steel bridge fabrication also stopped. We talked to collectors and authorities of states where factories located, be it Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, and requested them to start factories in Lockdown 2 & 3. With their help, we started getting materials,” said the commissioner.
The supply of imported equipment such as lifts and escalators is also continuous now, according to Rajeev, but there is an absence of labour to complete the fitting jobs at different stations. Indian factories too are now starting up.
Manufacturing of rolling stock, he said, requires equipment from different parts of the world. Some countries are quick to respond, others are starting up slowly. But the MMRDA has slowly begun to receive machinery and raw materials.
When will workers return?
According to Rajeev, workers will return to the city when the realisation that COVID-19 is not a threat seeps through and movement of people becomes more free.
“People need jobs and so far, as they don’t get jobs in their own states, they will come back and work in Mumbai. There will not be much economic activity immediately in their respective states.”
In fact, MMRDA says those workers who went before lockdown are in a mood to come back and a few contractors have informed the authority that they’re ready to return, but are worried about the COVID situation in Mumbai.