Demonetization: Hyderabad’s daily wage labourers migrating back to villages

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Janaki, a 38-year-old labourer from Adilabad, migrated to Hyderabad two years ago. She lives in a small rented tin house in Balkampet, with her husband and daughter.

Working for a private contractor in construction, she managed to earn around Rs 300 a day, which just about sufficed to cover their basic expenses. But for the past week, she hasn’t received her daily wage.

“Saab said that he doesn’t have change. I have been working and borrowing money from one of my neighbours. Last week he gave us a Rs 2000 note and asked us to divide it among six workers,” Janaki said.

The demonetisation of high value notes announced in November has hit Janaki and her co-workers very hard as many of them do not have a bank account and are in constant need of smaller notes to manage their daily expenses.

“Our sir said he has been trying to get cash but there is a huge problem of change. The ATMs dispense Rs 2000 notes and nobody gives change. Sometimes, he pays us weekly, but then also the problem of change comes up. For our daily needs we require Rs 100 notes, but we end up spending Rs 1,000 or more to get change and for rest of the week we are not left with much to survive,” said Vishnu, another labourer working with Janaki.

With the cash flow situation not improving, Janaki recently decided to move back to her village in Adilabad.

“We thought we will earn more here, but the city has its own expenses. Next month I will move back to Kumbhajheri. Whatever I earn working in the field, at least we can manage,” Janaki added.

Other daily wage labourers also seem to agree.

“We have been thinking about it for a while, most of the construction work has stopped due to the ban of currency. We have to face the consequences,” said Manjula, another labourer.

With demonetisation bringing the construction sector to a virtual halt, large numbers of daily wage labourers are looking to their villages to rescue them from their plight.

But what is compounding the problem for many of these workers is that the situation is not much better in their villages. Village panchayats hit by the cash crunch don’t have the funds to offer jobs under the NREGA either to the labourers returning from cities.

The Deccan Chronicle reported that in Mahabubnagar district, nearly 2 lakh fresh applications for NREGA jobs have been received. But they have all been kept pending as employment must be given within 15 days of accepting applications or an unemployment wage of one-fourth of the full wages must be paid. Across seven other districts, DC reported, the new applications number at around 10 lakh.

“If we don’t get a job there (in their village), I don’t know how will I survive. My husband has recently applied to the gram panchayat for NREGA. He is pressing for us to go back, so that we can, at least, manage to eat and educate our children,” said Manjula.

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