COVID-19: Caught Between Employers and State Apathy, Migrant Workers in Gummidipoondi SIPCOT Finally Find Shelter
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: The Hindu
The migrant workers in the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Limited (SIPCOT) in Gummidipoondi have been struggling for survival with the ongoing lockdown. Starving without food and salary, their attempts to walk home have been foiled by the Andhra Pradesh police. The state administration wants the employers to request for transport arrangements while the employers want the workers to stay back.
More than 1,800 workers, following their struggle, have been lodged in a college-turned-camp in the city, while around 1,250 workers have left for home with the special trains. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the college management are feeding these workers instead of waiting for the government aid to arrive.
The migrant workers who were not paid wages by the employers were staring at starvation and were forced to walk back to their states. Their persistent attempts came to a grinding halt at the Andhra Pradesh border, a few kilometres from the Gummidipoondi town.
“They were forced to walk as the governments are totally unconcerned about the migrant workers. As soon as they crossed the Andhra Pradesh border, the police, after interrupting their journey, manhandled them, loaded hundreds in a single truck and dropped them back. They were forced to find routes through the border villages and railway tracks, putting their lives at risk,” said B Giridhar, Gummidipoondi town committee member of the CPI(M).
The steel and power generation company in the SIPCOT employs migrant workers from Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Assam at very low wages. Most of the steel manufacturing companies had downed shutters as soon as the lockdown began, but the power manufacturing companies forced the workers to come to work.
“The companies were forcing the workers to attend work without any safety measures. The companies in SIPCOT are known for violations of environmental and labour laws. No preventive measures were ensured by these companies. The workers were left defenceless, as they had no money nor food. Only after they came out on the roads against the highhandedness of the employers, we could take up the issue”, added Giridhar.
More than 75% of the companies in the SIPCOT shut down as soon as the lockdown was announced, without arranging any facilities for the migrant workers. They paid neither their wages nor for their food. The workers were left stranded as the lockdown was announced out of the blue by the prime minister to contain the SARS-CoV-2 spread.
Giridhar further added, “After our intervention,the Tahsildar brought the issue of workers’ suffering to the notice of the district collector. We spoke to a private college management and turned the campus into a camp to accommodate the workers. The CPI(M) is arranging food for them two times a day, while the management is providing food once a day.”
The number of workers in the camp continues to increase every day. Workers in other industrial areas on the outskirts of Chennai including Sriperumbudur, Oragadam and Ambattur are marching towards the border town in desperation.
“They want to go home at any cost. The families back home are worried about the wellbeing of these workers. Their future remains bleak as the industrial scenario may worsen in the days to come. The government should ensure that the willing workers return to their homes at the earliest,” said Giridhar.
The officials' apathy, until the intervention of the CPI(M), was evident as the workers were left to defend themselves. The severe suffering of the migrant workers here is a classic example of the impact of the unplanned nationwide lockdown.
The government of Tamil Nadu does not have details of the exact number of migrant workers in the state. This has resulted in the official machinery struggling to distribute relief measures or arrange camps for their stay.
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