Covid-19 update: In U-turn, Karnataka govt allows migrants to go back in special trains
Close to half a million workers across India have left for their home in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar in the past week on special Shramik trains.Updated: May 08, 2020 03:04 IST
Karnataka reversed on Thursday its decision to stop special trains for migrants after widespread anger and condemnation even as thousands of workers in other parts of the country said they opted to not go back to their native states because of slowly expanding employment opportunities.
The Karnataka government wrote to Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha to seek their consent for receiving the workers and said it intends to start daily trains from Friday until May 15.
Two days ago, the administration had withdrawn its request to the railways to run the trains. The decision had come hours after chief minister BS Yediyurappa met representatives of the construction industry who expressed apprehension that projects will grind to a halt if workers left the state in thousands.
But the decision angered migrant workers who said they feared for their health and wanted to go home, and stirred a political controversy with the opposition Congress saying the government was treating the migrants like bonded labour and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party saying it would boost the local economy.
Close to half a million workers across India have left for their home in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar in the past week on special Shramik trains. Around 10 million people have registered with the helpline launched by various states for migrant workers and stranded people.
But not everyone wants to leave, especially from India’s industrial towns, where factories are slowly rebooting.
Kapil Kumar, 33, a native of Mathura district in UP, has decided to stay back in Surat, saying he needs to earn to feed his family. “What will I do in Mathura?” asked the landless farmer.
“The wait (for the lockdown to end) is killing us. But, we have been assured that the work will start soon and then we can earn good money,” Kumar, a construction worker, said, claiming that he earns up to Rs 20,000 per month by working in two shifts of eight hours each in a day.
In Surat, officials say only 200,000 of the 2.5 million migrant workers in Surat have registered to go back home. Kumar said he knew of 15 families from UP who have not registered.
Sharvan Meghwanshi, of Bihar’s Begusarai district and a union leader in Surat, many workers have not left. “Initially, few workers left for Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. But when they told us over phone that they have been kept in quarantine and there are no arrangements of food and employment, workers decided against going back home,” he said.
In Ludhiana, which has about two million migrant workers, only 400,000 have registered to return. Similarly, in Bengaluru, of about 1.5 million workers, around 100,000 have registered.
The reason: Current lockdown rules allow almost all industries in green and yellow zones. Moreover, the harvest season is over in heartland states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and the workers are eager to return to industrial town in the north and west.
Manmohan Agarwal, who runs a paint manufacturing unit in Lucknow, expected the industries to run its operations fully from next Monday. “As the harvesting season got over, we started getting calls from workers enquiring about resumption of work. Like industrialists, workers also want industries to start operation,” he said.
Awadesh Agarwal, president, Indian Industries Association (IIA), Lucknow chapter, an industry lobby body of the MSME sector, hoped the governments will allow public transport. “Labour will not be a problem, if public transport is allowed,” he said.
As per UP chief secretary RK Tewari’s May 5 order, industrial activity with up to 50% workers can start even in the red zones without any public transport. Around 1,500 industries have been allowed operation in Lucknow, a red zone. No permission is required in green and orange zones.
In Punjab’s industrial town of Jalandhar and Ludhiana, many factories have started work. From about two percent industries operational last week, the number has increased to about 25% this week, officials said, adding that they estimate about 50% industries would start operations by May 17 in green and orange zones.
Jalandhar’s industries department general manager, Bhola Singh Brar, said more than 2,000 of the total 14,500 industrial units in the district were operational and close to 300 are seeking permission every day. “As of now, we have enough workers,” said Narinder Singh Saggu, president of focal point industrial units.
In Ludhiana, around 7,000 units with reduced capacities were functional. “Meeting and being with family is their utmost priority. But, if industries resume operations many would stay back,” said Tarsem Jodhan, President of Punjab Mazdoor Union.
(with agency inputs)