Deepak Sharma and Pramod Kumar Jha
New Delhi, April 17 | Remember the miller when you eat your daily bread. Braving the menace of coronavirus, millers at Delhi’s Lawrence Road Industrial area are working day and night to feed the food supply chains in the National Capital Region (NCR) as the nationwide lockdown enters the fourth week in India.
Despite 25 to 30 per cent availability of labour, flour and pulses mills are operating at 50 per cent capacity, the best that can be done with limited resources available in these hard times.
Reporters of IANS visited several mills and plants at Lawrence Road and discovered that labour shortage did exist but millers looked determined to continue the operations.
“At one moment one thinks of stopping the machine. But then we realise that atta and dal are essential commodities. So we have to run the show, no matter if there is an acute shortage of labourers. At my mill, I have only 25 per cent of the strength (of labour), but we are somehow managing the operations during the lockdown. Let me assure you, we will work overtime to feed the people,” said Net Ram Garg, who runs a prominent dal mill.
A few yards away from Net Ram Garg’s mill, another dal miller, Pawan Gupta, has made elaborate arrangements at his plant to scan every visitor with a thermal gun to detect any body temperature.
At the entrance, washing hands with sanitiser is a must for all. Inside the plant, the labourers have been provided with masks. At the administrative office, social distancing norms are being followed by every staff member. Pawan Gupta and his elder brother look after the plant in a 24×7 mode.
“Initially there were labour and transport issues. Now the transport problem has been solved with the government allowing the truckers to move freely. However, a majority of the labourers have left for their villages… So the labour problem continues,” Gupta told IANS.
At the beginning of the lockdown, trucks could hardly reach here to deliver the supplies. But now one can see hundreds of trucks and goods carriers lined up around the industrial area.
“We can say that after the intervention of the Centre, there is an uninterrupted movement of trucks carrying essential commodities across the country. Still, labour woes continue to perturb the millers as its shortage affects production. But we assure the people that there would be no scarcity of essential commodities in the country,” said Suresh Agarwal, President of the All India Dal Mills.
However, Sanjay Puri of the Flour Millers Federation said that due to closure of several bakeries, restaurants and other outlets related to food processing, the demand for flour has decreased slightly.
In this moment of crisis, the millers have not raised the prices of any commodity.
“We are not responsible for hoarding. Similarly, at retail outlets, if higher prices are being charged for besan, dal or atta, you cannot blame us. The average mill delivery rate of wheat flour is Rs 22 per kg, maida Rs 20 per kg, suji Rs 30 a kg, dalia Rs 35 per kg and chokar is priced at Rs 24 per kg,” said Navneet Chitlnagia, Secretary of Roller Flour Mill Federation of India.
Almost all the millers were of the view that once the lockdown timings are relaxed or the lockdown is gradually lifted, more labourers will join the mills and production will be enhanced.