There have been warnings about global warming and the threat of climate change but no one had predicted a pandemic of this scale. The privileged ones are still managing to sail through but those without the assurance of a steady income are struggling to cope.
With many private firms in Mumbai asking their employees to work from home, meetings getting cancelled and some outlets downing shutters temporarily, daily wage earners are suffering.
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Those in the organised sector not only have the luxury of getting their paychecks at the end of the month, but many are also happy at being spared the ordeal of daily commute.
But for many of those whose incomes depend on the movement of people in the city, making ends meet could become difficult.
“I don’t know what to do,” lamented Sahadev Pandey (name changed on request), who plies a black and yellow taxi in the Lower Parel area.
“They say we must stay indoors and avoid meeting people to prevent the virus but sitting at home won’t be possible for me as taxi is my only source of income. How will I run my house?” Pandey told CNBC-TV18.
Taxi and auto drivers, hawkers, domestic workers, sanitation workers, home delivery staff etc, can’t provide their services from home. While they do have the choice of self-isolation, it could also mean no income.
But even after risking their health and lives, some unorganised workers are still seeing a sharp decline in their daily income.
Taxi driver Sampat says his daily income has more than halved ever since coronavirus entered Maharashtra. “I was making at least Rs 1300 every day until last month, but now it has dropped to Rs 500. There aren’t enough passengers,” he said.
Maharashtra continues to report highest number of positive cases of coronavirus in the country. The government has been advising people to adopt social distancing and has urged large companies to allow employees to work from home.
Making things tough for people like Pandey and Sampat are many companies arranging transport for their staff so that they don’t have to use public transport.
Less people going to work means lesser demand for taxis and auto rickshaws.
Auto driver Javed has been plying fewer passengers for the past two weeks with his daily income dropping by more than 40 percent.
“I would make 20-25 trips everyday but now I struggle to get even 10 trips. Earlier I would save Rs 1,200 per day but now I manage to save only Rs 600-700”, he added.
Auto driver Javed
For drivers like Ashok who are dependent on office goers and students, business has drastically fallen since offices and schools are closed in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. “I had at least 5-6 fixed customers daily who were mostly office goers. They aren’t going to work since over a week. My daily income has dropped from Rs 1,400 per day to Rs 300 per day,” he said.
And there is the question of health hazard as well. Taxi and auto drivers have limited choice in choosing passengers and have no way of knowing if their fare could be a carrier of the virus.
“I cannot question passengers if they are sick or have travel history to a COVID-19-affected country. All kinds of people sit in our cabs and we can’t say no to anybody. How do I know if anyone is infected? It’s a dilemma”, said another cab driver from Mumbai’s Bandra East.
Drivers say they are taking all necessary precautions when it comes to them but have limited control over the passengers sitting in their vehicles.
“I am wearing a mask and washing my taxi with disinfectant. But is that enough to prevent the virus? I can’t be sure,” said a taxi driver.
These are unimaginable times for everybody across the globe. There have been warnings about global warming and the threat of climate change but no one had predicted a pandemic of this scale. The privileged ones are still managing to sail through but those without the assurance of a steady income are struggling to cope.
First Published: IST