On Sunday, Bhiwandi, one of the busiest and densest cities of Maharashtra, sent back 1,104 labourers to their native state of Uttar Pradesh. A 'shramik special train' ferried the workers to Gorakhpur as part of Central and State Governments’ efforts to send the workers back home. However, the reverse migration was fraught with issues.
In its order, the state government mentioned that the workers must bring a doctor’s certificate which should mention that the person in question does not have symptoms of, and is not affected by the novel coronavirus. It is a major challenge for the labourers.
Satpal Yadav has been going to Dombivli's municipal hospital to get a certificate for two days now with long queues not helping his cause. He is a vegetable vendor in Dombivali's MIDC area and has to walk for almost 40 minutes to reach the hospital.
Dombivli lies in Thane district which is a designated red zone on account of COVID-19 cases, with the city home to more than two hundred patients. As a result, municipal officers have allowed for shops to remain open between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. everyday. Satpal leaves for the hospital after 10 a.m. By then, however, the queue is already long.
"If I go to get the certificate early morning, I will lose my income for the day. The lockdown has already affected sales and we do not have enough money. We have to work everyday to earn food," said Satpal. He has also heard that some private doctors are handing out certificates for between Rs 300 and Rs 500. “How can we would spend that much on a certificate? The government should arrange for more desks and doctors to clear our certificates," he added.
The Maharashtra Police had issued a number of instructions for the transportation of these labourers. It also issued a form which asks for one’s name, a copy of their Aadhaar card, their mobile number, destination details and a medical certificate. The police has asked for these forms to be submitted to local police stations. As soon as arrangements are done, it is said that the police would call the labourers in question.
In Navi Mumbai’s Vashi area, police distributed 800 forms to labourers and migrant workers. They were asked to fill the form and submit it to their local police stations. However, close to a thousand labourers still returned without forms.
The police had also asked labourers to come with Rs 800 for ticket charge. However, almost all of the labourers in Mumbai and Thane have been without work since March 22. Whatever they had as savings was spent during this period. "How did the government ask them to come with Rs 800? Where will they get this money from? They have been denied work for almost one and a half months now and now the government is asking them for money to facilitate thir travel. This need to be revoked immediately," said labour unionist Milind Ranade.
Few states have arranged for buses from Mumbai for those from their states. The Rajasthan government arranged for two buses from the Fort Mumbai area which took about 50 labourers from Mumbai to Rajasthan. Another problem is that the labourers are not getting information about such transport facilities, adding to their woes.
State labour minister Dilip Walse Patil confirmed that they have been receiving complaints about long queues for medical certificates. “We are trying to set up more desks in some of the ward offices of every city. It will be done so that labours or migrants will not gather at one place. Also, medical certificates issued by government hospitals are free. So, we appeal to the workers to get it done from government hospitals only," he added.
When asked about the Rs 800, he said that railway ticket charges is the Centre’s prerogative. topic. "We are sending buses to different states. We sent few buses to Karnataka and their government sent buses in Satara and Kolhapur to get their people back. These all are free. We have requested the Union Government to not charge the migrant workers and the Chief Minister has also appealed to the Centre and the railway ministry about the same. But until they do not change the rule, labourers will have to pay the charges,” he said.
After spending almost one and a half months without work, with thousands of them even going without food sometimes, the plan to send them home was a welcome one. However, within the first two days itself, the unpreparedness and a lack of coordination between different departments of the government has been exposed.