Hapless Beedi, Textile Workers in Solapur Hit Badly by Covid-19, Face Grim Future

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Bidi workers in Dattanagar slums sit together outside their homes to roll bidis. — Express photo

The future for thousands of workers is uncertain, with the deadly disease having played havoc in this backward part of Maharashtra, taking a heavy toll especially of ageing labourers

Ashok Kumar | Clarion India

MUMBAI – Tens of thousands of hapless workers from the beedi and textile sectors in Solapur in Maharashtra are facing a grim future. While Covid-19 has hit them (especially those above 50) badly, there is uncertainty about their livelihood over the coming months.

Located in south-western Maharashtra and bordering Karnataka, Solapur (with a population of nearly 10 lakh) does not have modern factories and industrial units unlike other cities in the state. While most residents are dependent on agriculture, there are about 1.2 lakh workers employed by the beedi and textile units in and around the city.

But the onset of Covid-19 has ruined thousands of lives in the city say NGO activists. “Though the units have started reopening, there is no work especially for those above 50,” Rajsekhar Gangappa Khilare, president, Saisamarth Samajik Shaishnik Krida (SSSK), an NGO, told Clarion India on Thursday. “These senior citizens are facing a massive crisis as they are unable to meet their daily requirements.”

According to Khilare, most of the women are in the beedi sector, while the men work in textile plants. Sadly, only those who are well-connected with local leaders manage to retain their jobs, he bemoans. “Many of the workers are forced to beg for their daily sustenance.”

NGOs like SSSK try to provide basic necessities including food to the thousands of workers, who are also facing the threat of being exposed to Covid-19.

In early July, Solapur district had 1,140 active cases of Covid-19; this has now shot up to more than 5,300 cases, making it one of the worst-hit districts in the state. With a fatality rate of 7.2 per cent, it has seen nearly 400 deaths.

P. Sivasankar, the municipal commissioner of Solapur, notes that factory owners have been told to compulsorily screen their workers and refer those suspected of having Covid-19 to the civic body.

Though the beedi and textile units are now being allowed to operate, the owners have to ensure that every worker is tested for fever and oxygen saturation level.

In a hasty reaction about two months ago, the Solapur municipal corporation ordered the textile and beedi units to stop letting those above 40 from working. This was because most of the Covid-19 deaths (about 95 per cent) in the city were in the plus-40 age category.

However, after the affected workers demonstrated against the move, the civic body raised the age limit to 58. Workers above 58 are not allowed inside the units now.

A spokesperson of the Centre of Indian Trade Union (CITU) claims that nearly a third of textile industry workers are above 50 and more than 15 per cent of beedi workers are in that age band.

The district administration is also looking at the possibility of beedi workers, who are exposed to raw tobacco for long, being more prone to be infected with Covid-19. Areas where beedi workers live have seen coronavirus death rates that are 50 per cent to 75 per cent more than the rates elsewhere, touching almost 12 per cent.

 

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