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Migrant Workers’ Death in Train Crash Highlights Bengal’s Poor Economy

Most of the 103 passengers from Bengal killed in the Odisha train accident were migrant labourers.
Brother of dhananjoy kora of birbhum district being tended by his brother at balasore hospital

Family members taking an injured person to balasore hospital

Kolkata: Rabindranath Jana is only 23. The college dropout, employed with the billing department of a grocery shop in Bangalore, was onboard the 12841 Shalimar-MGR Chennai Central Coromandel Express with several other migrant workers from West Bengal when it crashed on June 2.

With a salary of Rs 13,000, per month, he provides the much-needed financial assistance to his farmer father, whose land is not profitable enough to sustain the family.

A severely injured Jana has appealed to his employer from the hospital bed to give him time to rejoin.

What will Rabi (Jana’s nickname) do in a state without opportunities? The MGNREGS has been stopped and several industries have shifted to other states,” his cousin Bangshi Jana tells Newsclick chokingly.

The death of more than 103 passengers from Bengal, mostly migrant labourers from the state, indicates its lack of economic development and jobs—and the exodus of the poor to southern states for livelihood.

According to an unofficial estimate, nearly 70 lakh-1 crore people from Bengal are daily wagers in other states, including Kerala, where they earn Rs 400-Rs 700. Kerala and Tamil Nadu account for a sizable number of migrant workers from Bengal while Maharashtra, Delhi and even Jammu and Kashmir too have huge numbers.

Unlike Jana, migrant workers Premik Ghosh (Farakka, Murshidabad) and Dipankar Mondal Choudhury (Baishnabnagar, Malda) were unlucky. The families of the two deceased workers are distraught and at a loss after losing the sole earning members in the accident.

Ghosh, a trained JCB loader earning Rs 40,000 monthly in Chennai, couldn’t even make half his salary in Bengal.

No new industries are coming up and both skilled and unskilled people migrate to support their families,” Ghosh’s father tells Newsclick.

Choudhury’s brother, a resident of Farakka, says, “His death is a massive financial blow to his wife and kids. He previously worked in Kerala, Delhi and Bangalore as a mason. He was travelling to Chennai, which offers more opportunities and wages.”

West Bengal Migrant Labourers Union president SM Sadi says, “More than seven million migrant labourers are employed in other states and many die in accidents. Bengal residents have no option but to do menial jobs in other states due to the lack of jobs here.”

According to him, it is ironic that the government observed Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, unveiled Amrit Kaal and started Vande Bharat Express trains and the Odisha train crash happened.

An acting Supreme Court Judge should probe the accident. Our union has demanded special compensation for the families of all the dead migrant workers. Not all families have been compensated as several workers killed haven’t been identified. The state government and the Centre should take equal responsibility,” he added.

After Tata Motors’ flight, Bengal has not received a meaningful investment with other industries facing obstacles. The 100-day MGNREGS wash halted after the Centre froze funding alleging corruption. All these factors have contributed to the increasing migration of the poor, especially in rural areas, to other states for livelihood.

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