M Balachandran's automotive component manufacturing unit at Chennai's industrial hub Ambattur is back to life. With just a quarter of his 50 workers permitted, it's not business as usual.
He has paid full salary for March but could pay only half for April. "We have received a few orders now. But unless tier one companies pick up, which depend on vehicle manufacturers, and the vehicle manufacturers even if they have approval can't produce without companies like us working because it's in assembly where they need," he said.
Raghupathy, a grinder operator, lost his usual overtime allowance for two months, vital for him to repay part of the loan he had incurred for his daughter's wedding. He says he had to cut on his food to make it. "I had to manage drinking just water, no other way. I can't blame my employer with all the production lying here," he said.
Not far away, Rolf Harr Automats, a micro unit owned by Athmanesan, has no fresh orders, but he is working to fulfil a pending order to help his three workers in attendance now. His customers, major automakers haven't resumed production yet. He managed to pay his workers with the help of a new advance of 10 per cent of his turnover by his bank.
Sagaya Mary, a lathe operator working for him, too had lost her overtime allowance. "With just salary, do I pay rent or buy food? No one helped me, no help from government too," she said.
Athmanesan expects his unit to turn busy only if the government lifted restrictions on large automotive companies. "No schedule for me to work. All my nine big customers have not started production in full swing. It's a chain reaction. Only if they work our customers would give orders and supply TELCO, Leyland and other companies. It's a chain," he said.
The Rs 20,000 crore turnover Ambattur Industrial Estate alone supports the livelihood of more than four lakh workers. The industry is largely disappointed by the central government's stimulus package.
"The stimulus package is not what we expected. It's like giving loans to repay existing debt, which should not be the case. The stimulus package should be to revive and kickstart the economy," said AN Sujeesh, president of Ambattur Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association.
Amid COVID-19 fears in factories and industries following at least two car makers reporting positive cases, many say the industry's recovery would largely depend on how soon the Tamil Nadu government allows larger industries to run to their capacity to keep micro units engaged.