Stuck in camps, uncertainty keeps labourers on the edge
On Monday, several chief ministers asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to issue guidelines allowing the states to bring back the migrant workers.Updated: Apr 29, 2020 00:41 IST
As uncertainty mires the return of millions of migrant workers in the absence of Central guidelines, disquiet and anger are simmering in the shelter homes where the workers have been housed since the end of March.
On Monday, several chief ministers asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to issue guidelines allowing the states to bring back the migrant workers.
Close to five million workers would have to be brought back to their respective states, as per the data collected by the state governments till Tuesday afternoon. The states have demanded special trains to bring these workers back. These workers will be kept in special quarantine homes being set up at state borders and at district headquarters.
Pinky, 29, has been at the Gandhi Nagar shelter home in Jaipur since March 29 and is waiting to meet her four-year-old daughter at Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. She, along with her family members, were working at a cloth mill in Bhilwara, and were brought to shelter home, when they were walking back home on March 29.
“My daughter with her uncle and others reached Etawah,” she said, hoping that the UP government will send buses to take them home as the state did for workers in Haryana. “I just want to go back home,” she said.
She is not alone. Many from UP at the shelter home have registered themselves with the government helpline for migrant workers stranded in other states. UP plans to bring back a million workers from other states.
Chandradeo Singh, 22, who went to Mangalore from Jharkhand’s Latehar to earn a livelihood, is stuck there, along with five others. “We have exhausted all the money. Workers are not taking packets of cooked food for fear of being infected by coronavirus,” he said. He wants to know if the Jharkhand government bring them back home. “Even if the government withdraws the lockdown, we do not have bus or train fare to reach to Latehar.”
Back home, his wife said the family of six was surviving on boiled food. “We get PDS ration but we do not have money to buy even vegetables or other items to cook food,” she said.
The Jharkhand government’s helpline for stranded workers has registered 9,48,135 workers, from close to 15,000 places across India, all of whom want to return to their home state.
Anil Sethi, 37, is among 4.9 lakh workers from Odisha who have registered with the state government portal for stranded workers outside the state. In Bangalore, Sethi, a plumber, queues up at the food centre for three hours every day, to be ladled out some tomato rice, which, he says, is not enough for five workers from Odisha, who are sharing a room.
“Whatever money I saved has been spent for buying food. I called the Odisha government helpline after which local NGO persons came and gave us 2 kg rice, 500 gram flour, 250 gram rice and a cabbage for the five of us. How long can five people survive on that?” he asked.
Before the lockdown, Sethi used earn Rs 400 a day and used to send half of the money back home. “I never said no to any work despite not keeping well. I have two daughters at home. So I had no other way than to work hard,” he said.
Nirmal Kumar, was among the five workers. He had decided to walk back from a shelter home in Gurugram to their village in Purnia in Bihar. “We got food thrice a day in a shelter, but we want to return at any cost,” Kumar, 23, said. However, their journey was short-lived as they caught by police in Ghitorni in Delhi and put in a shelter. “The government has failed to feel our pain,” said another worker from Purnia, Bambam Kumar, 22.
Arvind, 47, a worker from Bihar’s Samastipur, said he came to Ludhiana two months ago to work in the agriculture fields. “I came here to earn something but I am sitting idle now,” he said.
Around 15 lakh migrant workers from Bihar are in Mumbai, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi and Haryana. The Bihar government has refused to bring them back unless the Central government gives a go-ahead. The state government has announced special assistance of Rs 1000 through the Direct Benefit Transfer system to migrant workers. “We have also received 25 lakh applications seeking Rs 1,000 assistance announced by the state government and have transferred the amount through DBT mode into the accounts of 15 lakh people so far,” chief minister Nitish Kumar said.
Like Kumar, Jharkhand chief minister, Hemant Soren, has requested PM Modi to direct the Union home ministry to relax the interstate travel ban so that migrant workers and students stuck in other states could be brought back. The government has transferred Rs 1,000 each to about a lakh workers, state labour department officials said.
The Rajasthan government has started bringing back migrant workers from other states. The CM has got other states on board to get migrant workers from Rajasthan back.