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Nitish govt gets to work to bring 27 lakh migrants, students back but says it’ll take months

Bihar has been reluctant to evacuate its migrants and students, and while it has drawn up a plan to get them back, it is yet to shed its hesitance.  

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Patna: The Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government is in a bind following the Centre’s decision to allow the interstate movement of migrant labourers, students and tourists from 4 May onwards.

As ThePrint had reported earlier, Bihar has shown a reluctance to evacuate its students and migrant workers stranded across the country, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar putting the onus on the Modi government to solve the issue. 

With the Centre now allowing migrant workers to return home and directing the states to work out the modalities, Bihar is yet to shed its reluctance to get them back home.

While Nitish hailed the Centre’s decision Wednesday, his administration has to now get back over 27 lakh migrant workers stuck across the country from Jammu and Kashmir to Andaman & Nicobar Islands. 

The enormity of the task is not lost on the state cabinet. “The state government has formed a nodal committee under chief secretary Deepak Kumar to look at ways of facilitating the return of those wanting to come back. But to expect the government to be responsible for the movement of such a large population is not practical,” JD(U) minister Ashok Choudhary told ThePrint.

“The rules of social distancing have to be followed. Presuming one puts 15 passengers on one bus, there are not enough buses to cater to such a large population. It will take months if this is followed.”  

Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi echoed the sentiments. “The state government does not have the resources to bring every Bihari back. The onus of sending them back falls on the government of the state they are stranded,” he told ThePrint. 

He later tweeted urging the central government to allow the movement of trains so that the migrant labourers can be brought back. 

 

The numbers 

While there is no real data on the number of Bihari labourers working across India, an app launched by the state government, to provide financial relief of Rs 1,000 for migrant workers, had about 27.29 lakh applicants as of 29 April. There have been at least 200 applicants from the Andaman and Nicobar islands.  

The possibility of such a large number of people returning to the state is giving nightmares to the state health department. Bihar is no longer at the bottom of the Covid-19 pyramid. As of Thursday, the state has 392 Covid-19 cases with two deaths.  

Health department officials, not wanting to be quoted, said there has been a spike in cases among migrant labourers. “Until Monday, there were just eight Covid-19 cases among migrant labourers. On Wednesday, that number increased to 43,” an official said.  

The state has as its task cut out in quarantining those who return. For now, it has said that all those returning will be screened at the state’s border and those showing symptoms will be quarantined at the nearest centre.  

The chief minister is also under pressure as the opposition has begun accusing him of leaving Bihar’s labourers in the lurch. 

Following the Centre’s decision Wednesday, Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Yadav taunted Nitish Kumar, stressing that it is his responsibility to ensure the return of migrant labourers.  

“Now Nitish Kumar does not have the excuse of lockdown rules,” Tejashwi Yadav said on Twitter. “The state government must start at a war-footing the exercise to bring labourers back. It should ensure their safe return, proper screening and treatment.” 

 

Those in the government, however, are banking on the migrant labourers not returning. 

“Migrant labourers from Bihar in Punjab are not returning because Punjab CM Amarinder Singh personally telephoned Nitish Kumar and said they were being taken care of. Work is available for migrant labourers in Punjab as Biharis form the backbone of the agricultural labour there,” Bihar Industries Minister Shyam Rajak told The Print.

“The main problem is in Delhi, Mumbai and Surat where industries are closed. The Bihar government is hoping that industries will open after May 3 and a large number of migrant labourers will get their jobs back. In Bihar, we have permitted 30 per cent of industries to open and 25,000 men have found employment.”  

The state government also feels that most Bihari migrant labourers would not like to return. “After all, they have migrated because there are no job avenues here. They have nothing to return to,” another minister told ThePrint.


Also read: Bihar turns clock back for Covid-19 fight, seeks to replicate 1998 polio eradication drive


 

 

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