Kashmir has been left facing an acute shortage of migrant workers this year with the building activities in the valley taking a severe burnt. Though officials have no explanation for this unusual development, locals widely believe that the migrant workers may be shunning the valley, fearing reprisal against them due to attacks on Kashmiris outside the state after the February 14 Pulwama suicide bombing that left 40 CRPF jawans dead.
Tens of thousands of migrant workers, who used to reach here from Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and elsewhere in the country by the last week of February or early March till last year are conspicuous by their absence this year. These workers, both skilled and unskilled, have failed to show up in the valley so far, hitting the construction activities that usually resume in March at the end of three-month winter here.
The valley's labour market used to be so dominated by the migrant workers that the city's many landmark spots have been unofficially renamed as 'Bihari chowks'. For example, Hawal Chowk in downtown city, Chanapora in uptown Srinagar and Rambagh on Srinagar Airport road have come to be referred as 'Bihari chowks' with hundreds of migrant workers arriving there every morning till last year, seeking daily-wage employments.
Srinagar residents attribute the acute dearth of migrant workers this year to their possible heightened fears over possible retaliation against them here due to attacks on Kashmiri students outside the state after the Pulwama terror strike. "A major factor behind them not coming to Kashmir may be the fear of reprisal against the Kashmiris getting targeted by right-wing goons in other parts of the country over the Pulwama attack," said Arshad Hussain, a businessman.
The dearth of labourers has resulted in construction works getting delayed and the labour costs shooting up. "I used to employ 50 to 60 labourers daily -- most of them migrant workers. Right now I have to make do with just 10 to 15 local workers," said Afaq Ahmad, a local contractor.
He feared the works undertaken by him might be delayed substantially if the migrant workers do not return to Kashmir before soon. While officials maintain no data on migrant workers, as per a conservative estimate by the industry, around five lakh labourers come to Kashmir every year in February and work here till December when the winter sets in.
"I was planning to build my new house this April but I guess I will have to put it off for a while as local labourers have started demanding more wages than the rates prevalent last year," said Suhail Mir, a local resident.
(With inputs from agencies.)