With lockdown extended, anxiety grips stranded migrant workers

Workers in several states, such as Punjab, Telangana, Haryana and Odisha, said they would start walking back home shortly as the ration they have received is about to be exhausted and they do not have any money left.
Daily wage workers and homeless people wearing protective masks wait on the banks of Yamuna river as police officers arrange buses to transfer them to a shelter, after India extended a nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease.(Reuters photo)
Daily wage workers and homeless people wearing protective masks wait on the banks of Yamuna river as police officers arrange buses to transfer them to a shelter, after India extended a nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease.(Reuters photo)
Updated on Apr 16, 2020 10:19 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondents

With the nationwide lockdown extended till May 3, distress among migrant workers continued to grow, a non-government organisation report on Wednesday said, even as the Centre said the revised guidelines were aimed at reviving the rural economy and thus providing relief to the migrant workers.

On Tuesday, close to 1,100 workers came out on the roads in Mumbai and Odisha wanting to return home. Similar protests on Wednesday were reported from Surat in Gujarat, Ludhiana in Punjab and Murshidabad in West Bengal, where workers sought permission to return to their villages.

Workers in several states, such as Punjab, Telangana, Haryana and Odisha, said they would start walking back home shortly as the ration they have received is about to be exhausted and they do not have any money left.

Some states, such as Odisha, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, on Wednesday announced fresh allocations of ration for the migrant workers and reviewed supplies of essential goods in labour camps even as the migrant workers seethed over the extension of the lockdown. Most state governments assured work for them after April 20, when industrial and construction activity will be allowed.

Additional Secretary in the Home Ministry, Govind Mohan, said that no movement of migrant labourers is possible till May 3 as no public transport is permitted to operate during the lockdown period. The home ministry has provided funds under state disaster relief provisions to extend facilities at relief and shelter camps for labourers and will continue to extend support, Mohan said, adding that activities allowed by the revised guidelines are focused at helping the rural economy.

According to a report released by the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN), a group of volunteers monitoring migrant workers stranded across states, most of the distress calls received by the group were from Maharashtra, followed by Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi.

“About 28% of those who have reached out to us are originally from Jharkhand, about a quarter are from Bihar and about 13 % are from Uttar Pradesh,” the report, prepared on the basis of conversations with 11,159 workers till April 13, said.

The report said that since the lockdown was enforced from March 24, over 350 government orders have been issued by the Centre and the state governments detailing relief measures, including providing shelter and cooked meals.

“Despite some meaningful state orders, the workers’ testimonies present a sombre picture,” the report said. It added that among the states from where stranded labourers have requested help, Karnataka has been most prompt and Maharashtra, most patchy.

Maharashtra chief minister Uddav Thackeray said that the government has provided the best possible facilities to migrant workers considering that Mumbai is a hot spot of Covid-19. Health officials from Karnataka did not respond to queries.

The report also said that around 50% of those who called the network of volunteers reported that there was food left only for a day and more than two-thirds said they have not received any ration from the government. About 78% of the stranded workers said they were running out of money and have not received salaries, the report said.

The report quoted migrant workers from different parts of the country saying that the situation was turning dire for them and they plan to go back to their homes and asked the state governments to pay emergency relief of Rs 7,000 to each stranded migrant worker, double PDS ration for three months and pay wages to all enrolled MGNREGA workers.

Three separate incidents of migrant workers trying to walk back to their homes in other states were reported from Hyderabad. All of them were sent back. “Due to various misgivings about the lockdown, the people are deciding to take up this Herculean task of returning to their far away native places by foot,” said Cyberabad police commissioner, VC Sajjannar.

In Machhiwara town, near Punjab’s Ludhiana, about 150 migrants are stuck with no wages and no means of getting back to their homes. They live in dingy one room quarters away from their families. Infuriated over not getting paid, some of them called the police yesterday. “The factory owner has to pay Rs 25,000 to me and that is lot of money for me,” said Ravinder Yadav, a worker, claiming others were also waiting to get wages.

Similarly, in Sherpur Kalan, an industrial area in Ludhiana, hundreds of migrants came on the roads on Wednesday and alleged they were not being provided ration by the administration. “We are living in hell. Struggling to get food and now the landlord has asked us to vacate,” said Jaikant Kumar, 26, another worker, who belongs to Sitamarhi in Bihar.

Stranded in Gurugram, workers from Bihar have sought the help from the Bihar government to ensure their return home. “We are in trouble here and want to return to our village but we can’t find any means,” said Pankaj Rishi, a construction worker .

According to Bihar government estimates, around 50,000 workers from Bihar are stranded in different states, such as Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.

Nishant Kumar Pandey, 30, resident of Pandey Tola in Muzaffarpur district, working in a cloth manufacturing unit at Ahmedabad, said he wants to return as the factory has been closed indefinitely and the landlord has asked him to vacate the house. “My wife is pregnant and she was refused medical assistance in hospital emergency barely a week ago. I don’t have much money left and want to return home as there are no avenues of earning here,” he said.

In Haryana, state government officials said that the migrant workers housed in various camps have shown no interest in the state’s offer to work as farm labourers as they want to go back to their homes.

“We allowed them to work if they want but they did not show any interest and said that they want to go back to their homes,” said Panipat deputy commissioner Hema Sharma.

The district officials said that the labourers have been advised to remain in the camp and not to leave the camp without permission. “Without trains or buses, they cannot go to their home state. It is better for them to stay here and earn their money,” said Karnal deputy commissioner Nishant Yadav.

Reports of workers’ distress also came from Odisha. In Odisha, Anil Rana, a migrant worker from Jharkhand, said that his family does not have money to buy even ration and that supplies provided by Odisha government would get over in a few days. “That [ration we got] is about to get exhausted in 2-3 days. After that, what will we do?” Rana asked. In the steel city of Rourkela, Shaym Mahato and 20 other workers from Chakradharpur area of Jharkhand, are desperate to go back home as they don’t have any work. “Once the ration gets over, we will all walk back to Chakradharpur,” he said.

In Uttar Pradesh, there are still about 1.25 lakh workers in 5,200 shelter homes across the state, a fortnight after the state arranged buses to take many workers from Delhi border to their villages. UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, announced that the migrants in shelter homes who have completed the stipulated quarantine period would go through health screening once again and then will be sent home with an advisory for another 14-day quarantine at their homes. Kerala has no reported unrest among migrant workers after the second phase of lockdown was announced on Tuesday.

(With input from state bureaus)

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Sunday, January 23, 2022