Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh declared on June 5 that 11,90,990 migrant workers have been sent from Maharashtra to total 21 states via 826 labour special trains. This is the total number of workers who have left Maharashtra since May 1 via trains. He also claimed that Maharashtra government has born the total cost of the transportation which runs into almost Rs 100 crore.
As per the state Home Ministry's data, highest number of trains (450) left for Uttar Pradesh from Maharashtra.There were 177 trains to Bihar, 49 to Bengal, 34 to Madhya Pradesh and so on. Maximum number of trains ran from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus of Kurla (155), followed by Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus with 137 trains, 45 from Panvel and so on.
However, this data only reflects the official number of workers who have travelled via trains since May 1. Earlier, ever since the lockdown was declared on March 24 and even after May 1, lakhs of workers are undertaking a homeward journey on their own, by walking, buses, trucks, tempos and even auto rickshaws carrying people from Mumbai to as far as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The unprecedented lockdown and the consequent reverse migration has exposed both the central and state governments lack of planning and apathetic attitude towards the migrant workers especially, feel trade unions.
Bharati Sharma, lifelong labour unionist who has been working with unorganised labourers called the government machinery 'insensitive' and 'ignorant'. "Shramik trains should have been started before announcement of the lockdown. That would have avoided the humanitarian crisis which later unfolded before all of us," she said, adding, "But the issue is not just of trains. Where is management? Where is coordination? Where is basic understanding of labour issues? No government, either state or central, has proved itself competent in this.”
She said that the lack of information with governments regarding the exact number of labourers in different cities is a systematic failure. It is the duty of the labour department to register every workers. But over the years, the labour department has ignored the people working in faceless industries like tanneries, small garments, plastics and all. So, when the crisis broke out, government was clueless on three major fronts. One was number of labourers, second was the channel which could help government to reach every labourer and third was how to transport labourers in such situation. “Had government taken the gathering of data in unorganised sectors very seriously over the years, the current crisis would have been easily avoided,” she added.
Another observation made by labour unionists and activists is regarding the exodus of skilled labour. Those who works in areas like plumbing, electrical works, floor polishing and similar kind of jobs have left Maharashtra. "Because these are not permanent jobs. The skilled workers used to come to their local market everyday, from where people would call them for work. But due to lack of work during the lockdown, these workers, too, have gone to their homes," said Milind Ranade, labour unionist. "So, now the lack of skilled labourers will be another issue for the government. Local markets will have less labourers at least for some months. What is the government planning to overcome this next problem?," he asked.
Further, there are complaints from various corners that the workers haven't received any monetary help from governments. Even though Maharashtra government has announced a cash transfer of Rs 2,000 each for the registered labourers the number of registered labourers is way less than the actual numbers. The Maharashtra Labour Department claimed that they have distributed Rs 154 crore to 7,70,000 registered labourers via direct transfer.
It is to be noted that in Maharashtra, only those workers in the real estate sector are registered, lakhs of other workers in the unorganised sector are left out from the government’s monetary help. "From domestic workers to ragpickers and workers in number of other small professions, a majority didn't earn anything for the last almost two and half months. But the government doen't have their data so it has not transferred money to all. This means, those labourers are left to survive their own. This is outrageous," said Uday Bhat, chief of Sarva Shramik Sanghatana.
The crisis has also had a psychological impact on migrant workers, according to trade unionists. As their native states were not ready to receive them and their work states were eager to send them back, the migrant workers have been left hanging and lonely. "They walked for thousands of kilometres with a feeling that they belong nowhere. The children and young people who faced this crisis are the worst sufferers. How would they react in future? Nobody is talking about the impact of these walking labourers in the long-term," said Bharati Sharma.