Every morning is an ordeal for 28-year-old Guddu Kumar, who lives in a small dingy room at a ‘vehra’ in Bahadur Ke village with his family of six.
Guddu, who irons clothes in a hosiery unit for a living, has to wait in a queue with 50 others like him to use the toilet.
When HT team visited these ‘vehras’ at different locations to take stock of the situation, it was found that most of the labourers have accustomed to dwell in dismal conditions. While most labourers were wary of sharing their personal experience of living and battling the deleterious conditions on daily basis, fearing the loathing of officials of government departments concerned, a few mustered up some courage to let us peep into their world of penury.
After giving an account of the living conditions of labourers in ‘vehras’, a 46-year-old labourer, who works in a hosiery unit, said, “Babuji, hamara naam mat likhna, afsar log aake pareshan karenge (sir, don’t write my name, officers will harass us).”
Manoj (24), who lives in a vehra at Bahadur Ke village, said, “There are 70 rooms in this vehra and on an average each room accommodates four to seven people. But, we have only eight toilets for as many as 370 people living here.”
“Whenever there is a huge rush outside toilets in the morning, I prefer taking bath at the factory itself. Due to scarcity of toilets in ‘vehras’, women find it difficult to subsist here,” said Akbar, a worker in a hosiery firm, who shares a room with two at a vehra on Rahon Road.
Thousands of workers living at ‘vehras’ on Rahon Road, Dhandari Khurd, Noorwala Road and Bahadur Ke Road share the similar fate living in poor sanitary conditions in Punjab’s financial capital, which is to be developed as a smart city.
Worse is the situation at a vehra in Dhandari Khurd, where more than 300 occupants living in 60 rooms share five toilets.
The rent of a single room in a vehra varies between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,500.
“Owing to poor sewerage system, water can be seen stagnating in the area,” said Sunny, a shopkeeper at the market on Noorwala Road.
Native of Purnia district in Bihar Vikesh Kumar, who colours thread at a dyeing unit on Bahadur Ke Road, came to Ludhiana with his family seven years ago, hoping to afford a decent living. But much to his dismay, “even after working for 11 hours a day, things hardly improved from what we were at our native place,” he said.
Bahadur Ke sarpanch Ravinder Kaur said, “Owners of these ‘vehras’ are least bothered about the pathetic conditions here. They are only concerned about collecting rent at the end of month. They construct ‘vehras’ to accommodate as many as people in them. It is their responsibility to provide adequate number of toilets to the labourers living here.”
“Economical constraints of labourers living in ‘vehras’ force them to share rooms with others, which can partly be blamed for the situation,” Kaur added.
Labour department deputy director Jatindar Singh Bhatti said, “Onus of provide basic amenities and keeping a regular check lies with the owners of the ‘vehras’. Possible alternative is that a trade union must take up the matter with high court by filing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), so that they can issue notice to the respective departments to ensure basic amenities at ‘vehras’.”