What is the Maharashtra government’s strategy to send migrant workers back to their home especially since you don’t have list of migrants with you?
Maharashtra being an industrial state has about 25-30 lakh migrant workers from various states. Most of them are centred around Mumbai metro region and Pune region. They belong to UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and other states. It is a big challenge for us to arrange transportation for such a huge population to different States. After the Centre’s notification that States can ferry the migrants with mutual arrangements, we have formulated a guideline to streamline the process.
Could you please elaborate the process one needs to follow to go back home?
This process will be done at district level. Migrants have to approach local police station to submit their details along with the home town address. The record of all travellers across the district will be compiled by the district collector. He will then contact the concerned district in the other States to share the details. A plan to arrange buses and train will then be chalked out.
People have started submitting applications in police stations. We are trying to form groups of 30 travellers each. This will help us to ferry them together from pick up point to train stations and also to transport them directly to the home district. I think, the administration process will take another two or three days. Then we can start sending them home. Besides, there are people who wish to go by own vehicles. They will be given passes with a rider that they can carry passengers up to 50 percent of the seat capacity. For instance, an eight-seater SUV will be given permission to carry four passengers. A train with 24 bogies will carry about 1,200 passengers to follow social distancing norms.
Today seven persons who travelled from Maharashtra to Basti (UP) by bus have been found COVID-19 positive. How do you plan to ensure that people who leave Maharashtra are free from corona?
Through our collectors and municipal corporations, we have been providing food to all migrants in the State so far. Yet, the UP sidestepped the travel restrictions and started ferrying them. Now, Centre’s has allowed and stipulated a guideline for transport. People are desperate to go back home. To get the passes, they have to acquire a medical certificate from the local medical practitioners who can certify that they don’t have any symptoms for corona. The transport would be point to point. After reaching home district, they have to be in quarantine for 14 days.
You mentioned that the UP government violated the norms and started transporting people. Does that mean the Maharashtra government is still not convinced that they should be sent home?
We are trying our best to convince migrants to stay back. But people get desperate calls from UP in which their parents tell them, “If you have to die anyway, then come back home.” This puts them under pressure and they decide to walk down hundreds of kilometres. We sought to quarantine them on way, provided food and shelter but they are adamant.
Despite tall claims, hungry migrants from Maharashtra and other parts of India are making distress calls for food through social media. Don’t you think hunger is forcing them to leave host state? And perhaps the governments have also realised now that it’s not easy to feed such a big population for so long?
Lack of food is not the major reason for reverse migration though it may be true for a few. Today, I received a call from Dhule that a group of UP migrants are going home on foot. We spoke to them, promised food and shelter. They refused and continued. People are adamant to go back at any cost as their wives and family repeatedly asking them to return.
How does this impact Maharashtra economy as industries are supposed to start but workers are being sent home?
See, you can’t hold back people forcefully. It would be insensitive and unconstitutional as well. Contractual labourers for industries, infrastructure development and other sectors will not be available now which will surely impact our economy.