No money, food or way out of Mumbai for migrant labourers amid coronavirus outbreak

Published on Mar 30, 2020 12:36 AM IST
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By, Mumbai

With no work amid the Covid-19 outbreak, Vijay Prajapati, 26, a labourer at an under-construction building in Mumbai, has run out of money and is worried about feeding his three-year-old son, Prince, and wife. But no mode of transport owing to the lockdown means he can’t even return to his hometown in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Prajapati is among the scores of migrant labourers who are stranded in various parts of Mumbai and the state, after the 21-day lockdown was announced at a notice of four hours on March 24.

The Maharashtra government has ordered all district collectors to set up camps for migrant labourers. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday said the state has so far set up 262 relief camps across the state which will provide shelter to 70,399 migrant labourers and homeless people.

“I urge migrant labourers to not leave their homes. If they have left their homes, they should remain where they are. The state will protect them and provide food. I understand that they are anxious but they should not leave. They should avoid increasing the risk of infection,” Thackeray said on Sunday.

The state government will increase the number of centres, officials said. But Prajapati isn’t convinced. “I am not aware of any centre where food is being served. My employer gave me 1,000 the day the lockdown was announced. Now the money is almost over. I am out of work. I have a child and a wife to feed. I want to go back to my village; at least we will not worry about the food, but how do we go now,” said Prajapati, who works as a carpenter.

Several labourers started their long walk home after the lockdown was announced. Many such migrants are lodged at the camp set up in Talasari and Dahanu, which is near the Gujarat border. Palghar collector Kailash Shinde said they have set up 19 camps near the border. “At least 1,300 people are living in these camps at Talasari, Dahanu, Wada, Palghar, and Vasai. We conducted their medical check-up. They have been given food and basic accommodation,” Shinde told HT.

Many daily wage labourers in the state have unsuccessfully tried to leave the state in tempos, milk containers. On Saturday night, the Panvel police caught 63 people travelling in a tempo to Karnataka.

In Kolhapur district, which shares its border with Karnataka, the district administration has set up temporary camps. “Besides migrants, we have many labourers from Beed and other districts who work at industrial units and factories here. The labourers attached to MIDC here are being given food and shelter by the relevant authorities,” said Daulat Desai, Kolhapur collector.

Meanwhile, many tribal labourers are also stuck in other states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Ulka Mahajan, a social activist, said that tribals from Raigad migrate with their family to Telangana, Karnataka for farm or forest-related works. “Every year, after the harvest season, contractors get tribals to work in their fields and private forests. In just Roha (in Raigad district), 2,000 families have migrated and are stuck in other states. We estimate there could be 10,000 such families from Raigad district itself,” she said.

Mahajan said that the state government should not make identity cards mandatory to seek food grains or packaged food at the government centres. “Migrants do not carry their ID cards generally. The data is centrally accessed, if a migrant from UP or Bihar seeks food grains or shelter here, the government can access data to verify his credentials. We have labourers from Maharashtra stuck in other states where they do not know the language. Even we would expect their state government to not see their IDs,” she said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Swapnil Rawal is Principal Correspondent with the Hindustan Times. He covers urban development and infrastructure. He had long stints with leading national dailies and has experience of over a decade in journalism.

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