Migrant labourers who were working at a construction site at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, have sent a legal notice to the business school, alleging that they have not been paid for two months during the countrywide lockdown to contain the coronavirus, NDTV reported. The institute has refuted the allegations, calling them “baseless”.
On Monday, about 100 migrant workers gathered on a busy road near the institute, demanding they be sent back to their native places immediately, according to PTI. These workers were employed by IIM-A at the construction site of an upcoming new campus. The police used tear gas to quell the protestors, who reportedly threw stones at them. Many of them were detained.
A day later, the migrant workers sent a legal notice to the institute’s director, the Gujarat chief secretary, the additional chief secretary and the deputy labour commissioner. “This is to bring to your notice once again that... IIM-A being the principal employer has not paid the wages to the migrant labourers for the past two months despite directives by the central government to continue to pay wages irrespective of the lockdown,” the notice said.
Advocate Anand Vardhan J Yagnik, who represented the labourers, said several of them were detained by the police, some were “brutally” beaten. Two of the detainees have been found to be infected with coronavirus. Yagnik added there are about 20 children and up to 30 women at the construction site who have been living there without any facilities mandated under labour laws.
The management at IIM-A has denied the allegations. “We have verified that all due payments have been made to workers,’ mentioned the statement,” the institute said in a statement on Thursday, according to The Times of India. “Work on [the] construction site stopped by May 7 in deference to the wishes of the workers...Workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were provided trains but unfortunately the public authorities did not arrange for trains to Jharkhand and West Bengal.”
The institute added that its records are open for verification. “We appeal that rather than defame us the way the legal notice is seeking to do, it benefits the worker who we all seek to impact positively, that the facts be checked, the circumstances understood, and only then is it appropriate for the matter to be raised the way it has been,” it said.
IIM-A Director Errol D’Souza told the newspaper the primary issue that led to the unrest is the workers’ “understandable perceived delay in obtaining travel permits and arranging of transportation by the state authorities”.
The sudden shutdown of businesses has upended the lives of millions of migrant labourers in cities. Left without means of sustenance, migrant workers have been forced to return home with their families. Many undertook long journeys on foot, bicycles or holed up in trucks, with some balancing their children and others carrying their elderly parents. The Centre started running ‘Shramik Special’ trains from May 1. However, many still continue their journeys on foot, cycles or any other means of transport they can find.
Two months after the lockdown was was announced, with millions of migrant workers still stranded, the situation is turning volatile with multiple instances or unrest, forcible roadblocks, stone pelting and even attacks on police being reported.