Migrant workers, most of them reportedly hailing from the North-Eastern States and villages bordering Bangladesh, were believed to have fled the State in their hundreds in the past 48 hours after being targeted by the local people in the wake of littering of waste on a public road at Paipad near Thiruvalla on Wednesday.
An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 floating population of migrant workers have been reportedly camping in the small village of Paipad since the past few years, working in the construction sector in the Central Travancore region of Kerala.
These hapless workers, almost all of them single, were living in poor condition in congested sheds rented out to them by certain local people.
The situation took a worse turn with the littering of waste collected from a colony of migrant workers on the public road by a contractor in the wee hours of Wednesday. The irate villagers attacked the dwelling places (sheds) of the migrant workers, demanding immediate closure of the unhygienic barrack-like accommodation provided to them a local land owner. However, no worker was attacked by the mob.
The stinking waste was found littered along nearly 2.5-km stretch of the Paipad-Kaviyur Road and it was cleared using an earthmover and afire engine following public agitation, later.
The police have registered a case against one such house owner, Habeeb Rawther, of Varikkad near Paipad and four others in connection with the recent littering of waste on the public road.
Workers fleeing Paipad
Satheesh Chandran, a villager, told The Hindu that a majority of migrant workers, who were scared of the incident, have left Paipad for their home on Wednesday and Thursday.
A group of workers who were on their way to Thiruvalla railway station told The Hindu that their living condition in the congested sheds was pathetic.
Zameer, Rafi and Saffire who introduced themselves as Bengalis lamented that the owner of the rented shed had not even returned the Rs 5000 each collected from them towards security deposit.
Moreover, the contractors who used to pay their wages on a fortnightly basis too refused to give their wage arrears, they alleged. The workers said that they were forced to leave the place to protect their life.
The Railway authorities in Thiruvalla told The Hindu there was a heavy rush of migrant workers at the railway station on Wednesday and Thursday and hundreds of them have boarded on the Chennai-bound trains on these days.
Sunil Thottumkal, proprietor of Heritage Builders in Thiruvalla, says that these migrant work force have been the backbone of the construction sector in the region and their absence would definitely create a serious crisis in the coming days.
Traders in Paipad too were allegedly fleecing these migrant workers by charging exhorbitantly on potato, onion, wheat floor, chicken, etc, compared to its market price in the adjoining towns of Thiruvalla and Changanacherry.
According to Ms Shylamma Rajappan, panchayat member, neither the grama panchayat nor any Government agency have collected any data on the migrant workers camping in this part of the district.
She said 15 to 20 workers were housed in a 150 sq ft room. Callous dumping of waste in pits dug in the premises of the colony-like accommodation has also polluted many wells in the locality.
She alleged that there were also attempts to give a political and communal twist to the issue as a majority of the migrant workers and their local house owners belonged to a particular community.
Meanwhile, the panchayat had identified 28 persons who have rented out unauthorised sheds with grossly inadequate basic facility to the migrant workers in its jurisdiction.
Different story from villagers
However, many villagers have to tell a different story about the migrant workers who, according to them, have become a threat to the social security in recent times.
``Nobody knows the social background or even address of these workers. Though many claimed themselves as natives of West Bengal, there were strong suspicion that most of them were of Bangladeshi origin who do not possess Indian citizenship or any valid identity card,’’ said a senior citizen at Varikkad.
Another villager complained about the nuisance posed by certain groups of migrant workers to the womenfolk in the locality. There were instances of villagers quarrelling with these workers over taking photographs of women in their mobile phones, he said.