Congress President Sonia Gandhi has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to roll out emergency welfare measures for construction workers and those in the unorganised sector because of the ongoing lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

In her letter dated March 23, Gandhi pointed out that the construction industry employed more than 44 million people. “Over the last week, lakhs of migrant workers in major cities across India have left for their hometowns and villages, fearing a prolonged economic downturn,” she added. “They are now faced with a precarious future. Many are stranded in cities and are deprived of their livelihoods due to the stringent lock down measures.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown for the entire country, stating that it was the only way to break the chain of infection. The lockdown will be in effect till April 14. There are over 530 cases of coronavirus in the country. Of these, 11 people have died.

Gandhi said the measures taken to contain the spread of the coronavirus have led to “widespread economic disruptions that had a debilitating impact on the informal sector”. She highlighted that several countries, most notably Canada, have announced wage subsidy as part of its Covid-19 economic response plan. “I request you to consider advising the state building and other construction workers welfare boards to roll out emergency welfare measures, particularly wage support, to construction workers who are in distress,” the Congress chief said.

In separate letters to the chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, Gandhi urged them to help the construction industry workers. “The construction sector is still reeling under the twin blow of demonetisation and GST, and slowdown triggered by COVID-19 is likely to further deepen the crisis,” she said.

Gandhi added: “While lakhs of migrant workers fled large cities over the last week due to panic and stoppage of work, many are left stranded due to stringent lockdown measures and closure of public transport. Given their dependence of daily wages, it is important to provide urgent wage support to construction workers who have been deprived of work.”

The Centre has urged state authorities to help daily wage workers by transferring funds directly to their bank accounts. “In the backdrop of such a challenging situation, it is imperative that we devise probable mechanisms to support our unorganised workers who sustain their livelihood on daily wages,” Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Minister of State for labour and employment, noted in an advisory, according to The Economic Times.

States like Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand have announced relief measures. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had announced a compensation of Rs 5,000 each to all construction workers whose livelihood has been affected due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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