Fate has not been kind to them since the deadly Covid-19 pandemic began spreading across the Dhaka city
Md Eyamin – a rickshaw puller in Dhaka – has been roaming around in the Mohammadpur area in search of passengers since the morning.
Unable to find any fares, he decided to get some rest by parking his rickshaw on the Pulpar road around noon. Fate has not been kind to him since the deadly Covid-19 pandemic began spreading across the city.
Eyamin could still remember the pre-coronavirus times, when the kindergarten school on the opposite side of the road was open, and he did not have to worry about getting passengers at all.
Before the viral outbreak, he usually made around 20-25 trips and earned at least Tk600 per day. "I want to go back to that time," Eyamin said with a heavy sigh.
The rickshaw puller is from Jamalpur, where his wife lives with their three daughters. After the government announced the first general holiday across the country in March, Eyamin went to visit his family.
"I planned to survive by doing basic manual labour in my village. But in last three months, I barely received any work there. I cannot provide for my family this way, so I decided to return to Dhaka," he said.
Eyamin now hardly makes more than Tk150-200 from 4-5 trips per day on average. Moreover, he has to pay a daily fee of Tk100 to the rickshaw owner.
"Everyone is so frightened of the pandemic that people now scarcely leave their homes. The number of trips I used to make per day has gone down drastically. I am now concerned about paying my accommodation costs at the end of the month," Eyamin said.
The rickshaw puller further said he did not get any incentives from the government or any private organisations.
Like Eyamin, most of the people involved in the informal sector are fighting for survival because of the income shock caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) last year in a study found that the cycle rickshaw is the most popular and widely used transportation method used throughout Bangladesh, and 60 percent of the Dhaka city dwellers use rickshaws for commuting.
As online ride-sharing services are suspended and public bus services are operating at a limited capacity due to the pandemic, the demand for rickshaws should have gone up.
But in reality, the number of people commuting by rickshaws has fallen significantly due to fear of the virus, which in turn has put the sector in a big shock.
Speaking to The Business Standard, BILS Programme Consultant Khandoker Abdus Salam said people who are totally dependent on daily-basis jobs, are the worst sufferer of the pandemic.
He further said, "Last year, the BILS found in a study that there are around 22 lakh rickshaw pullers in Dhaka city. When considering their family members and other people such as roadside shop-owners who are indirectly dependent on the pullers, the number of people involved in this sector will reach around 25-27 lakh.
"Among them, almost 85 percent became jobless during the nationwide general holiday. Those people are still suffering, and if the country goes into a strict lockdown, their ordeal will get worse as there will be even fewer trips available in Dhaka."
Salam pointed out that firstly, people are unwilling to use rickshaws primarily out of concern that any previous passengers might be Covid-19 patients.
"And secondly, due to the decrease of financial capability of the people, they are not very eager to move around without a strong reason. Schools and colleges are closed, and many businesses have come to a halt, so are the wheels of many rickshaws," he added.
He suggested that rickshaw pullers, along with all laborers in the informal sector, be brought under the Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) and rationing system.
"If this measure is taken, these people might get a small relief. They do not have enough savings to survive without any work. We have to think about them too," Salam said.