With the announcement of a COVID-19 lockdown in Maharashtra just days ago, the city is once again witnessing an obvious migrant exodus. Thousands have already made their way out, and amongst them are at least 2,000 Pune Metro workers.
Now, Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation Limited (MahaMetro) fears that it might end up missing deadlines of the prolonged project yet again. These thousands of migrant workers have fled the city despite assurances from officials that they would get vaccinated and regular meals, and their dues would be cleared on time.
With fear of infection driving them away, the authorities now find themselves in a tough spot. In June last year, a similar problem had arisen before MahaMetro, with the departure of 75 per cent of its workforce employed at different construction sites. This had also slowed down progress to just 20- 25 per cent of usual capacity.
Most of the workers who have left even this time are manual labourers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Those who have stayed back are typically from Maharashtra; many are involved in technical and office operations. MahaMetro communications team head Hemant Sonawane said, “We had started vaccination for employees and told them they need not worry about anything, as work will go on. There were no issues with stay or food as everything is managed at labour camps. But many of those who still left are bachelors or don’t have connections around the city. The common sentiment is that in case they get infected by COVID, there will be no one around for them and they will suffer. Now, work will obviously be hampered and we might end up missing deadlines.”
At present, there are two Metro lines underway in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. MahaMetro officials said there were 6,000 staffers and contract workers earlier working in two shifts across all sites.
MahaMetro earlier fixed a deadline for its 8-km Pimpri-Dapodi route to be operational by June 2021. The route from Vanaz to Garware College was to start by August 15 this year. Now, these are both likely to be pushed forward if the labourers do not return. A junior engineer from Vanaz depot shared on condition of anonymity, “Labourers working for Metro are in touch with other labourers from various construction sites or industries. Rumours are rife among them all that everything will shut down and they’ll suffer like last year. So, they have all fled. We cannot really force them to stay beyond giving all assurances.”