Maha lockdown: Fearing return of woes, migrants rush back to hometowns
Vishal Kori, 25, is perturbed by the memories of last year’s Covid-19 lockdown, when he had to walk for 10 days to his native place Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. He was among the millions of migrants, the bulk of Maharashtra’s workforce from March-end onwards, who trudged for days together, braving the scorching summer heat to reach their destinations. However as the Covid-19 pandemic subsided, these migrants made a comeback after some months.
According to the state, at least 1.2 million workers from states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha left Maharashtra after the lockdown was announced on March 24. This time as the mini lockdown is imposed, Kori wants to take no chance as he stands in a railway ticket queue to go back to his native village. “I am not taking any chance as Mumbai faces a large number of Covid-19 cases and my shop is shut. It is better I go back fast before things turn ugly,” said Kori, who works in a footwear shop.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government imposed a mini lockdown from Tuesday in view of the surge in Covid cases, which has now reached above 50,000 per day across the state. “Mumbai is not safe anymore and it is better I go back to Jharkhand. I don’t think I will come back again as I will search for a job in Delhi or Noida,” said Jamal Khan, 44, a chef in a hotel in the city.
Traders, especially in the hospitality sector, are worried. Mirah Hospitality, which runs 14 hotels including Rajdhani, Hitchki and Bayroute in Maharashtra, which was currently operating with 650 staff members, has seen 300 workers going back to their native states. “There is no way we can stop them. Some of our staff are trying for jobs in Bengaluru and Delhi,” said Aji Nair, COO (food and beverages division), Mirah Hospitality. Currently the government has allowed hotels and restaurants to only offer parcel services which has paralysed this sector. The Chamber of Associations of Maharashtra Industries and Trade (CAMIT), which represents the traders, called it a sorry state of affairs. “Our members are trying their best to dissuade these workers from going back. However if the government continues with this mini lockdown and does not allow us to open our establishments, there is no way we can retain them. This loss of labour will hurt the state’s economy,” warned Mohan Gurnani, chairman, CAMIT. “We were barely recovering when this mini lockdown was imposed. We have taken loans and paid our license fees in advance,” said Gurbaxish Singh Kohli, spokesperson, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI).