Because after the journey, livelihood & health issues will haunt them for long

Kanchan Srivastava / Lucknow

After almost 40 days of lockdown, the central and the state governments finally agreed to plying special trains and buses to transport the interstate migrant workers back home last week. A few trains and buses from Maharashtra have already reached UP easing out a few thousand migrants. Migrants are still running from pillar to post to submit applications and obtain medical certificates, proving they don’t have corona symptoms, a mandatory process.

Maharashtra has about 25-30 lakh migrant workers largely from UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and Odisha. Centred mostly on Mumbai and Pune metro regions, they worked in construction sector, jewellery, leather, textile and other industries as daily or contractual wagers till the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown March 24.

Neither UP nor Maharashtra has got complete list of migrants to facilitate the process. Most districts are still collecting records of the stranded passengers, admits Nawab Malik, Maharashtra minister. Distressed people will have to wait for a few more weeks to reach home.

Abdul Shaban, social scientist and Professor of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, says, “Had a week’s window been given to workers initially when cases in Mumbai and Mahara­sh­tra were low, chances of contrac­ting the virus by the workers would have been far less.”

Ardent journey on foot

Anticipating uncertainty and mess, scores from Maharashtra had already left to hometown in UP on foot walking down 1,500 to 2,000 kms with kids and bags on shoulders. Some boarded trucks, tankers, cement mixers. Some cycled. Few caught by authorities on the way and quara­n­tined. Many died on the way due to exhaustion or accidents.

Brajesh Mishra, editor-in-chief, Bharat Samachar TV, said, “The beelines of workers can still be seen walking across UP. A huge chunk of them have reached Jhansi, Mahoba, Prayagraj. The UP govt doesn’t have any record of any; they haven’t been screen­ed. The nodal officers by UP govt have failed to do their duty.”

What lies in the future for reverse migrants?

Next few weeks will be toughest for the home states. They will ha­ve to arrange 15-day quarantine facilities and food along with medical checkup for lakhs of peo­ple reaching there. Numerous of tests must be conducted to trace positive cases from in quickest time with meagre resources.

Authorities have their fingers crossed. 7 persons who returned to Basti (UP) from Maharashtra by special buses arranged by the Yogi govt last week have tested positive. Their life would be never be the same as before whenever they reach home.

The first question would be of livelihood. Apart from jobs, most have exhausted their savings as well. Harvest season of wheat, which comes as employment opportunity when they go home in summer, is already over.

“Home states like UP and Bihar had little to offer to them other­wi­se why would have never migrat­ed to far away states in the first place. Villages and small towns don’t have much opportunities anyway,” added Mishra. He said MGNREGA definition should be broaden to accommodate skilled or semi-skill­ed workers. “Govts must change the budgetary allo­ca­tions & focus to strengthen rural economy. Otherwise, malnutrition and hunger would engulf them.”

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