Groups of migrant workers were seen waiting at Coimbatore railway junction on Saturday evening to board trains for their home towns.
A worker, employed at Palladam and going to Bihar, said he and his friends were leaving for their home town for Holi and will return. Another labourer was waiting to board a train to Howrah and was working in the construction sector at Karamadai.
“I am going home for the festival,” he said. Though these workers had also received several messages on the social media and WhatsApp, they asserted that they were leaving Coimbatore only for the Holi festival.
“The number of workers at the station is relatively less today compared to other days. For the last one week, several workers have been returning to their home States. But it is mainly for Holi,” said a policeman at the station.
In the midst of rumours and fake messages spread on social media about migrant workers in Tamil Nadu, industry associations here urged the district administration, the police, and the State government to allay the fears of the workers and assure protection to them.
The textile industry in the State employs nearly 10 lakh workers from other States. If the workers start going home in panic as they did during COVID-19, the industry will be hit badly, Ravi Sam, chairman of Southern India Mills’ Association, said here on Friday.
The Federation of Coimbatore Industrial Association on Saturday submitted a memorandum to District Collector Kranthi Kumar Pati and sought announcements in Hindi at places where the migrant workers stay and at shandies. It also suggested formation of local committees to interact with migrant workers.
The Coimbatore Collector and City Police Commissioner V. Balakrishnan visited three units at SIDCO Industrial Estate and interacted with the workers. They told the press that the workers were anxious only because of the messages on social media. The officials said they have spoken to the workers, distributed pamphlets and asked the workers to contact the numbers given, if there were any problems. The police have also increased patrolling in areas where the workers live.
According to Narayanan, a builder, workers at his sites at Kumbakonam, Chennai, and Coimbatore said they were scared because of the messages and wanted to go home. “We have strengthened security for the workers and given them assurances on their safety,” he said.
At Tiruppur, a builder said about 500 workers in the construction sector have returned home in the last one week. “If they were leaving for Holi, they would have asked for leave. They have left without saying anything. They are so scared that they are asking us to accompany them even to go from one site to another,” he said.
In Coimbatore and Tiruppur, several industries are counselling the workers, some of them have not paid them their weekly wages so that they stay back, and have strengthened security for the workers who are staying at the factories. Industry association heads A. Sakthivel and Mr. Ravi Sam and Coimbatore and Tiruppur Collectors have issued messages in Hindi, appealing to the workers to not believe in the false messages. They assured industry and government protection to the workers.
The number of workers leaving for their home State has spiked in the last one week in Tiruppur and industry sources claimed it was due to two reasons - Holi and lack of adequate jobs due to economic slowdown.
Tiruppur City Commissioner of Police Praveen Kumar Abhinapu said the personnel deployment at the Tiruppur Railway Station will be increased owing to the rush for Holi. “Patrolling will be increased as well. There have been no complaints or cases of attacks so far.”
“Police personnel held interactions with migrant workers in their pockets to raise awareness of the helpline and support centre, and that there is no necessity to panic, as the situation is peaceful. Meetings are held with companies as well to ensure worker safety,” he added.
(with inputs from R. Aishwaryaa)