Developers in Mumbai woo migrant workers back to sites with sopsUpdated: Jul 08, 2020 00:34 IST
Expensive airline tickets, enhanced wages, medical insurance, weekly doctor visits... just some of the perks that Mumbai’s real estate barons are offering. Not to their Ivy-league-educated senior executives, but to entice hundreds of thousands of construction workers who left the city in the wake of the Covid-19 spread in April, May and June this year to return.
According to the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry (shortened as CREDAI-MCHI), the apex industry body in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), close to 700,000 of the 900,000 on-site real estate workforce migrated back to their hometowns as soon as Mumbai became the country’s worst-affected Covid-19 hotspot.
“There are hardly 200,000 on-site workers left in Mumbai, and a majority of the projects are in limbo. We desperately need to start work and hence we are trying all means possible to bring them back,” said Rajesh Prajapati, managing committee member, Credai-MCHI. “The workers are not ready to come back fearing infection and due to family pressure. We are assuring them that we will take good care of them, and offer them best of the facilities such as Covid-19 insurance as well as weekly visits by doctors.”
On June 8, the Maharashtra government allowed private construction activity to restart, but builders say they have been facing an acute shortage of workers since then, and that they are left with no option but to lure them back with flight tickets, enhanced wages, boarding facilities and medical insurance, in addition to weekly medical check-ups.
Recently, the Avighna Group — best known for erecting highrises in the erstwhile mills cluster in central Mumbai — arranged flight tickets for 88 workers from West Bengal for their new project in south Mumbai’s Worli area. “Work is delayed by six months due to the pandemic, and we cannot afford more setbacks. This forced us to arrange flight tickets as well as offer 25% extra wages for our workers,” said Nishant Agrawal, managing director, Avighna Group. He said Avighna has spent ₹9 lakh to transport them from West Bengal to Mumbai.
Real estate executives said they have appointed independent contractors who are scouting for skilled construction workers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha.
Real estate consultancy Liases Foras warns that the sector will face long-term crises if work does not start soon. “The disbursement of money by the banks to companies is construction-linked (according to the stage of the project) and hence builders will not get money till work starts and there is progress in the project. Delays will make projects unviable,” said Pankaj Kapoor, CEO, Liases Foras.
Liases Foras estimates that there are at least 4,500 ongoing projects in the MMR, of which less than 40% have started after the June 8 notification. “Here also, the work has not started in full swing and is progressing slowly,” Kapoor added.
Take Shraddha Lifescapes. This construction firm, which had started their Jogeshwari (in north-west Mumbai) project just before the March lockdown, has sent contractors scouting for workers in places like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. “Our project is delayed by at least a year, and if we don’t get workers fast, it will be delayed further,” said Bhavesh Sanghrajka, CEO, Shraddha Lifescapes. Shraddha Lifescapes has constructed projects in places like IC Colony in Borivli in north Mumbai and Jogeshwari, and is offering higher wages to bring back its workforce.
The National Real Estate Development Council (Naredco), however, estimates that reverse migration has started and the construction workforce will return within the next three months. “There is no work in the villages and hence we are seeing a healthy reverse migration. We estimate that all construction workers will return by Diwali (November),” said Rajan Bandelkar, president, Naredco (Maharashtra).
Niranjan Hiranandani, co-founder and managing director of real estate major Hiranandani Group, said the process of workforce returning to Mumbai has started. “They are attracted to Mumbai as it gives them employment and they will return,” he said. “Things will normalise in the coming months as people are realising that they need to live with this virus. Those who have gone are talking to other labourers, and the response has been positive.”