With her little son tied to a stone side by, Phulmani, 21, toils hard at a construction site here to make both ends meet. Like many other migrant labourers, illiterate Phulmani moves on anchorless in search of livelihood with her fate tied to poverty.
“We have to be on the move to get work. What else can we do? We have nothing to fall back at home,” said Jhumki, 35, of Bihar, who has been a daily wager in road construction work in different areas of Himachal Pradesh for past 12 years with husband, Ramu. She has three daughters, all of whom grew up at construction sites.
Records say that there are around 1.90 lakh migrant labourers in HP, of whom roughly 17 per cent are Nepalese. Although locals in HP are hardy, by nature, they shirk doing petty or tough jobs for scant earning. In that case, these migrant labourers are the real partners in Himachal’s journey to development.
From states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and from Nepal can be seen doing toughest of jobs, whether it is construction of tunnels in hydro electric projects or dicey roads in fragile areas in the mountain state.
Lot of them have been working in industrial areas of the state, since the industry came to avail the Centre’s industrial package in HP early last decade.
Poor Nepalese often come here for jobs in childhood, with private link-ups, for petty jobs and spend an entire life here. The majority of them work in apple orchards in Shimla, some others are daily wagers with even state departments.
But all this contribution in HP’s progress has not made any quality difference in their lives and they continue doing the same work with not even hand to mouth economy.
The state too has ignored their plight.
Their kids grow up in the dust of construction sites, with none interested to provide a crèche to them.
The government did make labour hostels in industrial areas, but at all other construction sites in interiors, the migrant labourers are given temporary hutments to live, which are dingy and unhygienic.
Open defecation is their compulsion. None ensures the Right to Education of their kids.
They are not covered under free health care facilities in routine in HP and are abandoned by private employers in case of mishap.
“I had injured my spine working in a remote area long back. I was taken to hospital by private contractor and after that he never returned, “said Ram Singh, 47, of Nepal.
He was helped by hospital authorities and social activists, but there was no system in place to take him back home. Bed ridden for 10 years, the Nepalese is grateful to the state for at least lodging him in Old Age home near Shimla.