About 1,200 migrant workers left Telangana for Jharkhand Friday on a special train. While Bihar, Punjab and Telangana have requested trains, Uttar Pradesh has deployed buses to bring migrants back from neighbouring states. This development coincides with the expected easing of lockdown and industries preparing to partially resume operations after 3 May.
ThePrint asks: Is govt right to send migrants back on trains as lockdown eases & economic activity resumes?
Migrants walking back home are dying, sending them home via trains inevitable
TRS leader and member of Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh
We have to deal with the most important fallout of the lockdown — migrant workers have been cut off from their families and are going hungry. Many have lost their jobs and are facing psychological distress.
Therefore, it is both the Centre and states’ responsibility to send them home and they have fulfilled it today by running the first special train from Lingampally, Telangana to Jharkhand’s Hatia. Undoubtedly, this was necessary.
One may argue that there is a major risk of infection in trains due to the lack of social distancing, but sending migrants home is inevitable.
Look at the bigger picture — people are dying on highways while walking back home from one state to another. Should we continue letting them die from hunger and agony?
Railways is the only option to carry out this exercise because the roadways will be more tedious and take longer duration. A train can stop at four to five main stations from which migrants can disperse and return home.
Now, as industries resume economic activity after 3 May, they will have to adapt to the changing environment, especially those industries that are heavily dependent on migrant labourers.
Covid-19 lockdown has burdened the migrants; govt must ensure they reach home
Retd IAS officer and social activist
The burden of the world’s most stringent lockdown, in India, was thrust on the shoulders of those who were the most vulnerable to this abrupt closure of the entire economy.
Among these were the migrant workers stranded in cities. They build the cities, and provide a range of services, which makes the lives of middle-class people possible. They drive our vehicles, cook and serve us food, care for our children, clean our homes and streets, sell affordable vegetables and fruits and labour in factories.
They do this with no support from the state, without finances or decent homes and without the protection of any of their rights as workers and vendors.
If any of us were caught suddenly without work and food, and were terrified about dying from an illness, which has brought the world to its knees, we would also be desperate to go to the place we call home. We understood this for the students’ abroad and arranged flights for them. The UP government also arranged buses to rescue students stuck in Kota, Rajasthan.
But the government has very different standards for migrant workers. Forced to trek hundreds of kilometres, or crammed into shelters with food given as charity, India’s treatment of its migrant workers is a national shame.
The state can never make amends for this discrimination against the migrant workers. But, at the very least, it has the responsibility to immediately arrange special trains that take every worker, with safety, dignity and at no cost, to their homes.
Movement of migrants a lose-lose situation. Risks virus spread and revival of economic activity
CEO and chief portfolio manager (PMS) at Prabhudas Lilladher Pvt. Ltd
Migrant workers are persistently demanding to be sent home, despite adequate release of ration by the Centre and its distribution by various states.
The Modi government was reluctant to send migrants home because of two reasons. It feared the medical infrastructure of the native states of migrants to be inadequate. The Centre was also of the opinion that the coronavirus might spread if their premature and ill-planned return was allowed.
Punjab’s SBS Nagar district was Covid-19 free up until recently, before a truck driver entered the place, emerging as a new case. Now, imagine the risk that a 25-hour journey from Telangana to Jharkhand could entail — even if it’s a one-stop train. Home states of migrant workers like Bihar and West Bengal will have to shore up medical infrastructure to ensure that there is no second wave of Covid-19.
On the other hand, economic growth, livelihoods and maintaining social order is at stake. Usually, migrant workers go home for two to three months but I think the searing experience of recent distress will keep them home longer. This means that as the economic activity resumes with lifting of the lockdown, many industries may face manpower shortage due to high dependency on migrant workers, raising costs.
Sadly, it is a lose-lose situation for states at both ends of this human tragedy.
This ‘ghar vapsi’ is foolish, industries will need migrant workers once they resume work after the lockdown
Former member of traffic, Railway Board
There is no exact estimate of the total number of stranded migrant workers across states but it could be a staggering 10 crore in absolute terms. If they are to be sent back home, it will take weeks by trains and months by buses. This means that the suffering of migrant workers stranded in metro cities is only going to continue.
Not to mention, this task is totally contradictory to the Centre’s plans of opening up economic activity after 3 May, considering that migrant workers are the foot soldiers of most industries. If they go back home, how will these industries survive? Even if we presume that migrant workers are to be brought back to cities within a few weeks, this would involve another mammoth exercise of train journeys.
This type of ‘ghar vapsi’ is foolish and lacks long-term planning, especially if the government is contemplating opening up the economy post lockdown. Once the lockdown is stopped being seen as a solution to Covid-19, and rather a temporary containment measure, the government will be able to see the bigger picture.
By Pia Krishnankutty, journalist at ThePrint