Patna: A day after the central government decided to allow states to bring back their people stranded in other states, it appears to be a big challenge for the NDA government in Bihar led by Nitish Kumar. It has to make arrangements to bring back thousands of migrant workers hailing from the state, including hundreds of students in Kota and other places, due to the sudden lockdown announced on March 24 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With over 17 lakh migrant workers and hundreds of students stranded across the country as per the official figures, senior BJP leader and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi expressed the government’s inability to bring the migrant labourers and students back citing lack of enough buses at the disposal of the state government.
Modi reportedly said, "Union Home Ministry has not permitted starting of trains and it is obvious that everyone has to be brought back to the state in buses, but we do not have enough buses to bring back so many people from across the country."
After this statement, Modi was criticised by the Opposition and people, mostly the families of stranded migrant workers and students, who questioned his sensitivity in the times of the worst health crisis and also, a survival crisis.
According to officials in the Chief Minister’s Office here, Nitish Kumar will hold a high-level meeting with top officials on Thursday to discuss the issue and chalk out a strategy to bring the migrants back.
Nitish Kumar, on last Monday, had made it clear to Prime Minister Narendar Modi while participating in a video conferencing that Bihar government is strictly adhering to the Centre's lockdown guidelines and it was not possible to bring back the stranded migrant workers and students till fresh directives are issued in this regard.
As the Centre has now put the ball in the state governments’ court, Nitish Kumar has virtually no option left. In view of the next Bihar Assembly polls scheduled for later this year,Nitish Kumar has a big crucial task.
Reports suggest that stranded migrant workers as well as students have repeatedly expressed their anger against Nitish Kumar. At some places outside the state, unhappy over the state government’s refusal to bring them back, migrant workers declared that they would not vote for NDA in the upcoming election.
Taking this into consideration, BJP MLC Bhola Paswan has requested the state government to bring back the students stranded in Kota because their suffering and anger may cost 5 lakh votes to the ruling NDA in polls. "Each student has a family and close relatives, their anger will cost in the polls.”
On the other hand, Bihar’s Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav, who has been demanding return of migrant workers and students, said migrants should now be brought back immediately without any further delay.
The Opposition, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), on Wednesday attacked the NDA government over “inhuman policies against the thousands of migrant workers stranded outside Bihar” and “reports of rampant irregularities in the distribution of rations to the poorest of the poor by PDS dealers” during the lockdown across the state. The RJD has announced a symbolic fast to protest against it on May 1, which also marks the International Workers’ Day.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav has appealed to the people to protest on May 1 inside their homes, while maintaining social distancing.
Left parties’ leaders, too, have demanded the government bring back migrant workers and have drawn attention to the irregularities in distribution of rations to the poor by PDS dealers.
According to the government data, more than 1.8 lakh migrant workers returned to Bihar after the lockdown began. Unofficial figures peg the number at about 3 lakh.
Last week, the state government admitted that as many as 17 lakh migrant workers from Bihar are stranded across the country due to lockdown. In its response to a PIL in the Patna High Court, the government informed the court: "Most of the nearly 17 lakh callers (migrant workers) at the Bihar government helplines have been requesting the state government to bring them back. However, the state government has always maintained its stand that the existing guidelines to enforce lockdown do not permit any such travel.”. The hearing took place on April 25 and 26 with the next hearing scheduled for May 5.
Meanwhile I&PR secretary Anupam Kumar on Tuesday said that the number of stranded migrants who have rung up the helpline stands about 26,39,000, as with each passing day, more and more migrants are getting in touch.
The state government has identified 3,217 clusters in 160 districts across the country where most of the migrant workers are stranded.
Interestingly, the state government has no official data on how many workers from Bihar are employed outside the state or the seasonal migrants.
Most of the migrant workers stranded outside the state belong to the marginalised communities, including dalits, Other Backward Classes and Extremely Backward Classes, considered the social support base of both Opposition RJD and the ruling JD-U.
Till Friday, there were 407 COVID-19 positive cases in Bihar, with two people dead. So far, the state has tested nearly 20,000 samples, a number far less when compared to its huge population. There are six COVID-19 test facilities in Bihar till date.
Also read: 17 Lakh Stranded Migrants Callers Sought Help, But Can’t Bring Them Back Now: Nitish