Patna: The mounting fear of a likely lockdown forced Rahmat Ansari, Subodh Mandal, Chandan Yadav and Mukesh Kumar, all migrant workers, to return to their native state of Bihar amid the fast-rising COVID-19 cases across the country.They are four among hundreds of frightened migrant workers who have arrived in the state by special trains from Mumbai and Delhi in the last twenty-four hours.
Thousands of migrant workers are set to reach the state in the coming days in view of night curfew and the fear of a lockdown being imposed at any time in Mumbai and Delhi.
“We are relaxed now as we reach near home.We were living under constant fear in Mumbai due to the fast spread of COVID-19 cases and the possibility of lockdown any time. With factories and workshops reducing the working hours in our shifts, we have decided to return home as it is the best option. We still remember last year’s horrible experience of lockdown and what happened to us,” said Rahmat, who along with his co-villagers Shahid Hussain, Tamanna Ahmad and Manjoor Alam, arrived in Patna. They were among more than 600 passengers, mostly migrant workers, who came back by the Kurla-Patna express train.
Rahmat and his coworkers were employed at a stitching workshop in Mumbai as tailor masters and assistants. “After last year's lockdown, we had returned to our native villages and spent months without work. But when we finally failed to get any work, we went to Mumbai again in search of livelihood,” recalled Rahmat.
Of the total 1280 passengers, who arrived here on the Kurla-Patna Express on Thursday and Friday, 41 were tested COVID-19 positive and admitted to a quarantine centre in Patna.
Similarly, Subodh, another migrant worker, reached Bhagalpur railway station by the Lokmanya Tilak Express train on Friday. “After the COVID-19 spread again, I was without work and spent a week there. But the situation further worsened and left me with no option but to return home. At Least I will be safe here,” he said.
Subodh further said that now he would have to search for a source of livelihood locally because he would have to stay back in Bihar for over a month or two till the situation improves enough to return to Mumbai again.
Till date, migrant workers who returned were either daily wage construction workers, security guards, cooks or they worked in industry and factories and were compelled to return home after being rendered jobless in view of rising Covid-19 cases and tough measures enforced to check it, particularly in Maharashtra, Delhi and other states.
Chandan, a worker in a small plastic unit near Pune, said he was without work due to semi-lockdown-like conditions. “What was the use of staying there when there was no work availabl? Our last year’s experience helped us to return home due to a strong fear of lockdown,” he said,
Dozens of special trains carrying migrant workers are expected to reach different railway stations across Bihar in the coming days.
Railway authorities have deployed health workers at all important railway stations for conducting a thorough health check-up of each passenger arriving in Bihar from the worst COVID-19-affected places like Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.
According to the officials of East Central Railway (ECR), headquartered at Hajipur in Bihar, the railways have made full arrangements for Covid tests on the platforms.
After the sudden lockdown last year, millions of skilled and unskilled workers, drivers, and vendors were either rendered jobless or did not find any work, as per official figures. In Bihar, joblessness after the lockdown poses a great challenge with more than 21 lakh migrant workers returning to the state, as per official data. Initially, thousands of them walked hundreds of kilometres on roads and along railway tracks to reach home as there was no arrangement for transport. Later, the railways had operated Shramik special trains between May and July for ferrying migrant workers.
However, most migrant workers who returned home last year spent months without work as the state government failed to provide jobs to them, contrary to publicised claims.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, for the past 20 months – since February 2019 – the unemployment rate in Bihar has been more than 10%. It is one of the longest cycles of unemployment the state has ever seen.