Ghar Wapsi for Migrant Labourers: Are the States Well Prepared?

Bringing the migrant workers back to respective states is going to be extremely challenging for state governments.

India
5 min read

Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia

The nationwide lockdown that was supposed to end on 3 May, has now been extended for another two weeks. But the government has announced relief measures for migrant workers. This includes a special COVID-19 train that will ferry migrant workers and students who have been stranded. There are, however, a few ground realities that we need to be worried about. The number of migrant workers only from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand are about 58 lakh – a large number of people who need to be brought home, posing a huge challenge for the central government.

Let’s look at how these states are planning to handle this situation.

Here’s What The UP Govt Claims

At least 6 lakh people have returned to Uttar Pradesh since the lockdown began. The UP government, like Bihar, Punjab, MP and Jharkhand has appointed nodal officers to tackle the matter. The UP government has asked for detalils of the migrant workers to other states, including their name, address and mobile phone numberss. The ones residing in government shelter homes can be identified, but the ones who are not remain untraceable.

The UP government also plans to check people coming from outside the state twice. All those returning from other states will be sent to quarantine centres at first.

The UP government claims to have arranged for employment for at least 15 lakh migrants, but if numbers are to be believed, at least 35 lakh are already unemployed in the state.

How Prepared Is Bihar?

According to CM Nitish Kumar, around 25 to 30 lakh migrant labourers are stuck outside the state. Out of that, 22 lakh labourers have sought the government’s help. The government has asked nodal officers to create a list of people, and according to the rules everyone coming from other states will have to be in quarantine for two weeks.

But if that’s the case, will the Bihar government be able to provide accommodation for the 25 lakh people that will come into the state? Will they also be able to feed so many people?

The virus is spreading rapidly in Bihar, and the government is doing around 1000 tests a day. How are they going to handle an increase in cases when people return to the state? There are a lot of districts where government hospitals don’t even have ventilators.

What Is The Current State In Delhi?

CM Arvind Kejriwal has said that talks are on with state governments, and that he will personally inform people about the measures that will be taken. He also urged people to be patient.

The central government has urged state governments to screen anyone who is going to another state. The Delhi government has begun arranging for the screening procedure in a big way for students and migrant labourers to go back to their states. But where and how will this happen, is what needs to be decided. Also, how is the information going to be given to people living in different parts of Delhi, and how will they be able to screen people while following social distancing and then sent home? These are huge challenges for the Delhi government.

Fake News

The spread of fake news has led to incidents like gatherings in Delhi's Anand Vihar and Mumbai's Bandra. Tackling the menace of fake news and rebutting it with the correct information for the people concerned also poses as a huge challenge for the Kejriwal government.

Meanwhile, the Delhi government has arranged 40 buses to bring back students stranded in Kota.

Troubles For Small Businesses And Factories

According to surveys, at least 90 lakh people cross-migrate to other states within India in search of jobs every year. So it might be safe to assume that this figure can be somewhere close to at least a crore. But while the green zones have been allowed to open factories and industries, there might be a sudden dearth of labour as migrants return to respective hometowns and villages. This issue might be an added problem to be tackled by the state governments.

Maharashtra Faces A Huge Challenge

In Maharashtra, around 5 lakh migrant workers have been staying at the various government shelter homes in the state. Government officials told The Quint that district collectors have been asked to gather data on all such migrant workers. They have been asked to list which state they are from, where do they stay, their home address and phone number. Post this, the district officer of their home should be informed, and once approved, the government will take a call on how they should be sent back. The officials said that the decision to send them will be based on the facilities available in their home district, and the quarantine facilities as well.

But will these migrant workers be sent by bus? Or since the government has now announced a special train, will they be sent in that?

While the government does have the data of the workers that are lodged in the shelter homes, but there are many who aren’t. How is the government going to reach them?

The Indian Railways will be following a fare chart for the tickets while operating the special COVID-19 trains. This included the price of a regular sleeper class ticket, plus superfast charges of Rs 30 and an additional charge of Rs 20. But what about the migrant workers that the government is not able to reach out to?

Jharkhand’s Collapsing Medical System

In Jharkhand, around 8 lakh migrant workers are in other states. 2.9 lakh migrant workers have registered themselves on the Jharkhand government app. The government is trying to find the other workers in the various states, and is trying to reach out to them but that will take a while.

For the workers who are reaching Hyderabad from Hatia, around 60 buses have been arranged to ferry them. Once they reach their district, they will be staying in the quarantine centre of that particular block. But like Bihar, Jharkhand also has a poor medical system. The state has a total of only 239 ICU beds, 1,603 non-ICU beds, and only 206 ventilators. After the migrants come back, if the virus spreads further, how is the state going to handle that?

Gujarat Is Opening Its Borders

In Gujarat’s Surat in particular, lakhs of migrant workers have been stranded, and a lot of these workers are from Odisha. A few days ago, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani had discussed how the workers should be taken back to Odisha.

Some of these workers have already returned to Odisha. Additionally, Gujarat has opened its borders to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan as well. Also, more than 800 fishermen from Andhra Pradesh stuck in various parts of Gujarat have also been sent back.

Gujarat officials have said that bus stops have been created at places where the migrant workers have been stranded and are being screened before they board the bus. There is also news that some private buses are plying at a certain price, and the workers are being charged for that. But most of these workers have been out of work, and so will not be able to afford that.

District officer Dhananjay Dwivedi has said that migrant workers have been asked to come in small numbers, one by one, and so the inter-state pass will also be given on the same basis. The pass is also given once it is clear that the state they are going to has the necessary quarantine facilities to accommodate them. The passes can also be availed online now.

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