Hunger, hopelessness driving migrant workers back to cities
Millions of migrant workers had earlier this year rushed home to Bihar and Odisha from the metro and mega cities to escape the COVID-19 fury, but hunger and joblessness are now driving them back to their places of work, even as coronavirus cases continue to surge.
It’s been five months since the pandemic struck, forcing the government to impose a nationwide lockdown in phases, and triggering a wave of migration from Delhi, Mumbai Bengaluru, Hyderabad among other cities – with many labourers hoping to start their life afresh in their hometowns.
The Centre had launched Rs 50,000-crore Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan for the migrants in June, and the state governments had also assured them jobs.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had promised the over-20 lakh migrants who returned to the state that his government would create jobs for them so that they are not forced to venture outside out of “majboori” (compulsion).
The wait for employment, however, only got longer.
With flight services having now resumed and special trains made available for interstate travel, the migrant workers in the two eastern states are making a beeline for leaving their hometowns.
The employers, many of whom had virtually abandoned the migrant labourers, are sending them train and even flight tickets to fetch them back as factories whir back to life, construction activities pick up and the sowing season sets in.
Pappan Singh, a Delhi-based mushroom grower who had sent 10 of his workers back to Bihar in May, has now booked air tickets worth over Rs 1 lakh, for them to return.
Singh said his business was taking a hit in the absence of the labourers.
Bhupesh Negi, Director, Jayprakash Narayan Airport in Patna, told PTI, “Flights to Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru are running full. Almost 80 per cent of the passengers are migrant labourers. Our staff members are helping them complete the travel formalities.” Mail and express trains to places like Ahmedabad, Amritsar and Bengaluru are also running to capacity. This is in sharp contrast to the scene a few months ago, when desperate migrant workers returned home from these cities — many of them walking, some cycling and others in trucks.
The average occupancy in Muzaffarpur-Ahmedabad special train is 184 per cent, Jaynagar-Amritsar special 160 per cent, Danapur-Bengaluru city special 176 per cent, Darbhanga- Ahmedabad special 164 per cent, Darbhanga-Lokmanya Tilak Terminus 182 per cent and Rajgir-New Delhi special 175 per cent, a chart released by East Central Railway revealed.
Binod Paswan of Samastipur’s Khanpur block flew back to Indore recently, courtesy his employer at a flour mill.