COVID-19: Migrant Workers Return Home a Month After lockdown
Migrant workers returning home from Aluva, Kerala.
Finally, the migrant workers and others who have been stranded at various places across the country due to nationwide lockdown will be allowed to go home. Following the order issued by central government, various state governments have come forward with steps to send the migrants home. The first batch of such migrant workers have left for their home state from Telangana on Friday. The migrant workers from Kerala are also being sent home and the first batch headed to Odisha on Friday late evening.
Ever since Pime Minister Modi had announced the nationwide lockdown from March 24, there have been demands for arrangements for the commutation of stranded migrant workers, students and others. Even some states had requested the Centre to allow sending and receiving stranded people. But the Centre had been unresponsive so far. Many migrant workers, mainly from cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Bhopal etc., even walked back home since they couldn’t afford to continue living there after their earnings dried up. Several lost their lives.
More than a month after the lockdown, the Ministry of Home Affairs on April 29, has said stranded migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students will be allowed to move with conditions during the lockdown which stands extended. Now, with the order which comes just as the country begins the third phase of lockdown, all states have been asked to designate nodal authorities and develop standard protocols for receiving and sending such stranded persons.
On Friday, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave permission to the railways to run special trains for migrants and those stranded in different parts of the country. States like Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Telangana have requested special trains to ferry migrant workers back to their home states.
"As per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, it has been decided to run 'Shramik Special' trains from 'Labour Day' today to move migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded at different places due to the lockdown,” the MHA order said.
"These special trains will be run from point to point on the request of both the state governments concerned as per the standard protocols for sending and receiving such stranded persons. The railways and state governments shall appoint senior officials as nodal officers for coordination and a smooth operation of these 'Shramik Specials'," the national transporter said.
Officials said that a list of hundreds of such services have been planned by zonal railways over the coming days. The railways also clarified that that these are special trains planned for nominated people identified and registered by state governments. Each train is expected to carry 1,000-1,200 passengers.
Interestingly, the central government has directed that the states should bear the cost of railway transport for movement of migrant workers.
The first such service was run with 1,200 passengers from Hyderabad to Jharkhand at 4:50 a.m. on Friday. The workers who arrived at Hatia late Friday night were then ferried to their villages in sanitised buses arranged by the Jharkhand government after preliminary medical screening at the station, officials said.
Food packets were distributed among them before they boarded the buses, they said.
The first special train to transport stranded migrants chugged into the Hatia station, on the outskirts of Ranchi city, around 11:15 p.m. on Friday. The 24-coach train had started from Lingampally, in Telangana, at 4:50 a.m. the same day.
A senior official of the Ranchi Rail Division told PTI on Saturday that the train returned to its starting point in Telangana around 2:10 a.m. after it was properly sanitised and all the coaches locked to prevent any unauthorised entry.
On Saturday afternoon, a train carrying around 1,200 stranded migrant workers from Kerala is set to leave from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram to Hatia in Jharkhand. Those with any symptoms of the virus would not be allowed to travel, Thiruvananthapuram District Collector K Gopalakrishnan told reporters.
On Friday night, as many as 1,152 migrant workers from Aluva in Kochi left for Bhubaneswar in Odisha. A kit containing bread, water and fruits were given to each passenger as they reached Aluva railway station to board the train in special KSRTC buses arranged by the state government and the food and drinking water have also been ensured in all compartments.
The special 24-coach train, carrying around 1,110 migrant workers from Odisha, began its journey at 9.55 p.m. from Aluva railway station, a southern railway spokesman told PTI. The non-stop train is expected to reach Bhubaneswar on Sunday. A railway official said personnel from Railway Protection Force have been deputed to provide security to the passengers throughout their journey.
Kerala Agriculture Minister V S Sunil Kumar, Ernakulam District Collector S Suhas and top police officials were present at the railway station to see off the workers. The authorities have taken necessary social distancing precautions to ensure safety of the passengers, also comprising women and children, during the journey.
Earlier, the train was scheduled for 6 p.m. departure but was delayed for four hours due to the checking of details of each passenger travelling in the train and ferry them in buses from various locations in the district, sources said. They were brought to the railway station after conducting thermal screening to ensure that no symptomatic person was travelling in the train, sources said. Commencement of train services to ferry stranded migrant workers has come as a relief for them. Many of the migrant workers have been staying at camps set up in various districts by the Kerala government since the announcement of lockdown in March.
"I am very happy, because I am going to Odisha today. We are scared of coronavirus. Now, we are going back to our home state. I am very happy,” a guest labourer said before boarding the train. Asked whether he will come back to Kerala for work, he said a decision in this regard will be taken only after analysing the post coronavirus scenario in the country.
"We are very very thankful to the governments of Odisha and Kerala for facilitating our journey,” another guest worker said. "I have given my contact details in Odisha to my contractor here. If situation becomes normal, I will come back," he said.
Following information about the special train, a large number of migrant workers, including women, thronged registration counters set up by the state government at nearby Perumbavoor, where majority of the labourers in the Ernakulam district are housed in camps. Announcements were being made through public address system in various native languages of the workers, including Bengali, Odiya and Hindi, on the process, including social distancing, to be followed for the journey.
Meanwhile, the state government has said that at least five trains would be leaving for various states from Kerala on Saturday with the workers. Apart from Thiruvananthapuram, one will start from Kozhikode to Jharkhand, one from Thiroor to Bihar, one from Aluva to Bihar and one from Ernakulam South to Odisha.
(With inputs from PTI)
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