Early April, officials and contractors consciously drove home the message that workers, in the ongoing pandemic, are much better off, and safer, staying in their work site camps than heading to their villages.
In a bid to ensure that workers had a strong reason to stay back despite COVID-19 challengers, contractors working on National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) projects worked overtime. Towards the end of April, around 5,000 highway construction workers were down with novel coronavirus, as per official data. Now, that number of workers has been brought down to around 2,000 across all 480 projects of the NHAI that involve highway construction of 25,000 kilometres at over Rs 5 lakh crore, according to an IE report. Early April, officials and contractors consciously drove home the message that workers, in the ongoing pandemic, are much better off, and safer, staying in their work site camps than heading to their villages.
SS Sandhu, NHAI Chairman, was quoted in the report saying that the highway authority’s contractors and the construction firms have learned from the last year’s experience. The workforce also realizes that if they choose to go back to their villages, all these facilities like medical insurance, vaccines, isolation wards, food, oxygen-fitted ambulances, may not be so easily available, Sandhu said. As it has been insisted by the government that vaccines were the only real protection against COVID-19, around 700 vaccination camps were organized by the NHAI at its work sites across the country.
Subsequently, nearly 2,700 number of beds were made available for Covid positive workers at isolation wards set up across project sites. Besides, oxygen-equipped ambulances were deployed as well. The NHAI regional offices were activated in order to coordinate with district administrations as well as contractors at the project sites. Also, for all contractors, testing for COVID-19 became a matter of routine. NHAI officials’ life insurance cover was also increased from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 20 lakh.
Officials had said since the engagement of manpower is as per the contractor’s need, the exact number of workers engaged across the country at any given day is difficult to estimate. However, NHAI said that contractors have reported only 10-15% fewer labourers when compared to the end of March this year. According to officials, said the labourers who at the beginning of April did go to their villages are also being brought back by contractors. Sandhu said there has been a positive outlook among the workers to return to the project work site and the contractors of the projects are facilitating their safe return.
This is because India’s premier highway developers have learned from the last year’s lockdown when they lost some of the best months to the pandemic for construction of roads. Despite that, the highway authority had constructed 4,192 kilometres of national highways in the year 2020-21, the highest so far. The NHAI, with an aim to surpass the last fiscal’s construction record, has issued instructions to field offices to speed up highway construction work, wherever possible, as due to pandemic-related restrictions, traffic is still low, the report added.