Patna: A day after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Karnataka cancelled special trains intended for stranded migrant workers to help them return to their home states, opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav called it an insult to Bihar. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader urged Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to intervene and send a strong message to the Karnataka government to not to treat migrant workers as “slaves”.
“It is an insult to Bihar as thousands of migrant workers from the state are eager to return home but the BJP government in Karnataka has cancelled all special trains to force them to stay back. Karnataka government has been treating migrant workers as slaves. It is inhuman behaviour towards migrant workers. Bihar will not tolerate it. I appealed to Nitish Kumar to intervene in this matter and send a strong message,” the former Deputy Chief Minister said on Thursday.
Tejashwi said that the Bihar government should now make arrangements to bring back the migrant workers safely without delay. He said that with the BJP-led NDA in power at the Centre and in Karnataka and Bihar, it was their responsibility to ensure their return.
He added that the move by the Karnataka government was a violation of the human rights of migrant workers. “No government can forcibly stop migrant workers during a pandemic-like situation,” as was the case at the moment. “The BJP government in Karnataka ordered for the cancellation special trains to forcibly stop migrant workers and turn them into bonded labourers, giving them no respect,” he added.
Tejashwi said that industrialists and factory owners had left the migrant workers in the lurch during 40 days of the lockdown. The RJD leader mentioned that the workers were neither paid salaries nor given ration to survive, adding that they had treated the workers as a “burden” and were now using using state power to stop them in order to begin production in their factories.
Congress state president Madan Mohan Jha said that migrant workers from Bihar stranded in Karnataka were not slaves or bonded labourers and that they should be allowed to return home.
“Nitish Kumar first refused to bring back stranded migrant workers from outside and later agreed due to pressure from the opposition. But it seems Nitish Kumar is hand-in-glove with the Karnataka government to stop migrant workers there to serve vested interests,” said Jha.
Left party leaders questioned the timing of the Karnataka government’s decision. Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)) state president Awadesh Kumar said the Bihar government should bring back the migrant workers immediately. “Karnataka government has cancelled trains to serve the interests of industrialists,” he said.
Deepak Bhattacharya, state unit President of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) said the move was an injustice to the workers. “The Karnataka government has cancelled eight special trains under pressure from industrialists to forcibly stop migrant workers. It is against poor labourers and workers,” he said.
Last week, the Bihar government said that there were over 28 lakh stranded migrant workers from the state across the country. Contesting these claims, some experts estimate that the number would be between 35 to 40 lakh workers.
Anupam Kumar, secretary, Information and Public Relations Department said that ten special trains carrying migrant workers from different states arrived in Bihar on Tuesday, May 5, and that 13 special trains arrived on Wednesday with more than 15,000 migrant workers.
He said that 24 special trains are set to reach Bihar on Thursday. Of the number, eight will come in from Gujarat, five each from Maharashtra and Telangana and one each from from Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Kerala at different railway stations across the state.
He added that about 50 special trains are expected to arrive with migrant workers in the coming days.
The first special train carrying migrant workers arrived in Bihar on Saturday, followed by half a dozen more trains on Sunday and Monday.
Interestingly, the state government has no official data on how many workers from Bihar are employed outside the state. The state government has identified 3,217 clusters in 160 districts across the country where most of the migrant workers are stranded. These migrant workers were stranded in Delhi, Surat, Mumbai, Kolkata, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Visakhapatnam and Bengaluru, among other places.
According to government data, over 1.8 lakh migrant workers returned to Bihar after the lockdown began. Unofficial figures doing the rounds say more than three lakh workers had already returned to Bihar after March 22.
Till Thursday, Bihar had 546 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with four deaths in the state. So far, the state has tested more than 30,000 samples and there are six COVID-19 testing facilities in the state.