Mumbai: Thousands of migrants who have started their arduous journey from Mumbai back to their home states have started to deprive the city of its daily supply of bread. Small bakeries are shuttering their outlets indefinitely or while large ones have been forced to cut production, as they run short of skilled hands to run their units.
At one of the most popular and oldest bread brands, Wibs, production is down by 40%.
“Some of our workers have left already and our production is down 40%. We had a total of 550 workers on the rolls. Now, we are down to 400. It is worse in the case of smaller local bakeries where there has been a mass exodus of labourers,” said KP Irani, owner of Wibs bread and president of the Indian Bakers Association.
“We are getting calls from well-known restuarants and bakers Kayani and Britannia as they also find it difficult to get labour. At this rate, we don’t know what will happen to Mumbai,” said Irani.
One of Mumbai’s biggebakeries, Hilton Bakery, that supplies sliced bread under the ‘Special’ brand to south and central Mumbai, has been shut because its entire work force, comprising mainly of migrants, have quit the city.
“We had 70 labourers producing 12,000 loaves of bread daily. All of them have left by whatever transport they could find. This bakery, which never used to close, is now shut indefinitely,” said Mufid Ahmad, a supervisor at Hilton Bakery, just outside Byculla (W) station.
Another bakery owner, Alam Shaikh, who owns a bakery each in Mumbai and Thane, said his labourers too have all left for their home states, forcing him to close his two bakeries.
“I had 22 labourers who used to work and stay here. They were anxious to go back home because there is uncertainty over when the lockdown will end. We could not stop them. So now, we are shut for at least a month,” said Shaikh, whose bakery used to make 1,600 pieces of local bread or pav.
ELECTRICIANS, PLUMBERS QUIT
The lack of labourers is not just going to hit Mumbai’s daily bread –– its repercussions is being felt in other sectors too.
Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, labourers working in civil work and construction sites have all left the state. The few who are left behind are also planning to leave.
“What is the point in staying here when you impose lockdown after lockdown? Things have become quite expensive and whatever we have saved is wasted in procuring things to eat. We might as well go home,” said Bharat Sharma, a carpenter from Bihar.
Sharma shares a small shanty in Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, with nine others and they are all planning to go back. “I have lived in this city for more than 15 years, but I am going back to my state because I don’t have a job and due to hunger,” Sharma told ET.
Several workers in Dharavi engaged in leather and embroidery units have gone back by hitching rides on trucks or by walking.
The shortage of workers has also hit the real estate industry hard. ET spoke to several builders who said they could not begin work as they could not find labourers.
Meanwhile, the labourers have their own story to tell.
“We are getting no pay here. The contractor arranged some food initially, but that has also stopped. The builder has not cared to give us anything. At this rate, it is better to go home than to die hungry here,” said Bappi, a plumber who works in a building in Mumbai. He plans to leave for Odisha as soon as possible.
Maharashtra Industries Minister Subhash Desai, while reacting to the labourers leaving the state, sounded nonchalant a few days back. “We have tried to stop them, but we can’t do anything if they are still leaving…. This would mean locals from our state would get employment,” he said.
Rashmikant Yadav, a civil contractor, said replacing workers is not going to be easy.
“Digging up roads, working at construction sites, working as carpenters, electricians and plumbers are not jobs that the sons of the soil do. I have got information that BMC is struggling to find workers to clean drains before monsoons because the labourers have all gone back to their states,” he said.