Realty firms are optimistic that sales will touch 2019 levels, but to achieve this they need to make sure that restrictions imposed because of the second wave of the pandemic do not lead to an exodus of migrant workers.
CREDAI has announced it would provide free vaccination to over 2.5 crore construction workers.
Realty firms are helping workers with vaccination, food and shelter, and have asked the government to make all construction labourers eligible for the job to ensure that the pandemic does not disrupt the sector that is India’s biggest employer after agriculture.
Developers want to make sure that migrant workers do not return home because of the pandemic, which has resurged with more than 1.5 lakh cases a day. Prospects of a total lockdown have triggered fears of another mass exodus of migrant workers.
They are worried because after last year’s lockdown, 70 percent of migrant workers had returned home of which almost half have returned to their work sites, the Construction Workers Federation of India has estimated.
Several states have imposed restrictions on people and businesses to arrest the rapid rise in infections in recent weeks but this has not impacted migrant workers so far.
“There has not been any major exodus of construction workers after the imposition of lockdown measures in some states the second time around,” said Debanjan Chakrabarti, head of the West Bengal chapter of the Construction Workers Federation of India.
He said only 20 percent migrant workers, including those in the construction sector stayed back in their hometowns last year.
“There are a few workers, however, who had returned to West Bengal and Assam during Holi this year and stayed on account of the assembly polls in the two states and have not returned due to the changing COVID-19 scenario. They are waiting for the situation to evolve,” he said.
The federation wants all migrant workers, irrespective of their age to be vaccinated, he said, echoing the demand of the National Real Estate Development Council.
“NAREDCO has recommended that all labourers above 21 years should be vaccinated,” said its president Niranjan Hiranandani.
Builders are ensuring that the second wave of the pandemic does not spark another wave of reverse migration as this may reverse the gains made during the festival season last year. Construction work had touched pre-COVID levels on some sites before the second round of restrictions, they claim.
Hiranandani said reverse migration was more of an issue for other sectors such as power and hospitality.
“As far as the real estate and construction sector is concerned, the sector is well prepared to handle the situation and is looking after in-situ migrants labourers. We are complying with the state government SOPs and are ensuring that food, shelter, and healthcare is provided to all construction workers,” he said.
Delhi-based Migsun Group has ensured regular health check-up for construction workers. Yash Miglani, MD, Migsun Group, said that “there is no migration from our sites right now but we are not taking any chances.”
Amit Modi, director ABA and president-elect of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI), western UP, said that there was “no labour crunch or immigration issue being faced at the moment. Construction at all our sites is in full swing. We will abide by any local guidelines issued by the authorities.”
CREDAI has announced it will provide free vaccination to over 2.5 crore construction workers at the sites of its over 13,000 developer members across 217 Indian cities and towns.
“CREDAI MCHI and our over 1,800 developer members are currently overseeing and implementing various safety initiatives and measures to ensure adequate preparation in view of the new set of restrictions imposed by the state government to combat the spread of the virus. We are grateful to the authorities for not putting a halt on construction activities and assure all the efforts to ensure the safety of our workers and employees at the construction sites,” said Deepak Goradia, President, CREDAI-MCHI.
He said construction workers were being vaccinated across sites. “Given that the workers belong to the lowest pay grade and are at a high risk of exposure, we urge the Government to allow prioritized vaccination of workers who are 18+ to ensure their safety,” he said.
On April 4, Maharashtra government had announced several restrictions up to April 30. Construction activity is to be allowed only for sites where labourers’ are living on site. Movement to and from the site must be avoided, except for the purposed of material movements.
The new guidelines require everyone engaged in the activity needs to get vaccinated at the earliest, as per criteria of GOI and until that is done they would have to carry a negative RTPCR test result certificate, which will be valid for 15 days. This rule will come into effect from April 10, 2021.
Defaults will be punished with a fine of Rs 10,000 for the developer of the construction site and repeated defaults may lead to closure of the site till existence of notification of COVID-19 epidemic.
The guidelines had said a worker who is found positive would be allowed medical leave. “He or she will be entitled for full wages that he or she might have earned had he or she not contacted corona,” the guidelines said.
Anuj Khetan, director, Vijay Khetan Group, said his company would provide paid leave to all the eligible workers for vaccination. “For workers we are getting RTPCR tests done as per the government guidelines. We are maintaining thorough sanitization at all our sites for the safety of our workers and stakeholders,” he said.
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘worrisome’ and it may become a ‘short-term dampener’ depending on its intensity. But if there is no complete lockdown, sales may definitely touch the 2019 levels, CREDAI national president Patodia said.
“We are worried over the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. If logistics and supply-chain support is available and migrant labour is on site, I don’t think there will be a problem. Unless there is a complete lockdown, livelihoods lost or people unable to go to work, then the sentiments may get impacted and COVID-19 may turn out to be a short-term dampener,” he said.
However, if the impact is not severe like last year, “we will definitely touch the 2019 sales levels,” he added.