“We cannot breathe,” say the workers.
The masks they wear at this procurement centre in Telangana’s Nalgonda district, soak in sweat. Rising dust from the paddy heaps causes their skin to itch and makes them sneeze and cough. How many masks can they change? How many times can they wash and wipe their hands and faces? How many times can they cover their mouths – when they must fill, drag, weigh, stich, carry and load into trucks 3,200 gunny bags – each weighing 40 kilograms – in 10 hours?
That’s 48 workers handling 128 tons of paddy – or 213 kilograms a minute – in temperatures hovering around 43-44 degrees Celsius. Their work starts at 3 a.m. and stops by 1 p.m. – that’s at least four hours, from 9 a.m., in very hot and dry weather.
However sensible it is to practice wearing masks and physical distancing, it’s next to impossible to do that when you’re working at a paddy procurement centre like the one in these photographs from Kangal village in Kangal mandal. And state agriculture minister Niranjan Reddy told the local media in April that there are 7,000 such centres across Telangana.
And what do they earn for this? There were four groups of 12 workers each and every worker made around Rs. 900 for the day. The catch: you get this work only every alternate day. Each worker here will get 23 days – or Rs. 20,750 across the 45 day-procurement period.
This year, paddy procurement in the rabi season started in the first week of April, fully overlapping with the Covid-19 lockdown period, from March 23 to May 31.