Delhi

As uncertainty looms over lockdowns, migrants scramble to leave GB Nagar

Migrants wait for transport near the Yamuna Expressway over the weekend.  

Their groups may have gotten smaller, but their collective sense of helplessness continues to be as compelling a reason to make the long journey back home now as it was last year.

Seeking shelter from the noonday sun on a grassy patch below the Yamuna Expressway or waiting for the soaring mercury to gradually subside at abandoned roadside tea stalls along the highway, migrant workers are exiting Gautam Buddh Nagar daily as one district-wide lockdown gives way to the next.

“You can call it curfew or lockdown, but it means the same thing for people like me who have to dig a well every day to drink water. Each day without work is a struggle, leave aside one entire week,” said Gopaldas, one of over a dozen migrant workers from Bihar’s Saharsa district awaiting a ride home near the ‘Zero Point’ in Greater Noida on Saturday.

“I should have listened to my younger brother who left with some of his friends at the dry-cleaning shop where we all work, the day after the first weeklong curfew was announced; he told me he had a feeling it would get extended again but I told him there was no point spending money on a trip home in a hurry; I was wrong,” he added.

Rendered jobless due to the continually extending lockdown to contain the second wave of COVID — a night curfew through most of April followed by a lockdown week after consecutive week so far this month — construction and factory workers, roadside vendors, barbers, mechanics, eatery operators, printing press, dry cleaners’ and even restaurant employees constitute the daily trickle back to their rural roots.

“There aren’t lines [of migrant workers] on the roads like [during the March 2020] lockdown last year so it may look like everything is fine but that is not so,” said Surender Kant from Darbhanga.

“Many of those who went to their villages last year, like my younger brother who is now working on agricultural fields there, didn’t come back because they had doubts about things being normal despite government announcements; if they, had it would have been as bad now as it was then,” he added.

Willing to utilise any means available — from hitchhiking on personal vehicles to cramming themselves inside trucks’ and goods carriers’ metallic storage compartments irrespective of the heat or fear of COVID infection — and to pay any price to reach destinations located as far as some districts of Bihar, the migrant crisis, they said, may not “look as bad” like last year but has forced many to reconsider their decision to return to the city yet again.

“I came back to Greater Noida a month a half ago after spending almost a year at home. Things were getting better daily; there was work almost every day of the week but then the lockdown happened again. Now I think I shouldn’t have come back in the first place,” said Sarvesh Singh, a construction worker, also from Saharsa.

Operations scaled down

Ranjit Yadav, a 55-year-old contractual factory worker from Gorakhpur, complained that employment opportunities for daily wagers like him had been few and far in between throughout May.

“Factories are functioning but not at their full strength because of the lockdown. Operations have been scaled down; given the lesser working hours they are mostly making do with employees on their payroll or with a less number of younger labourers instead of old hands like me,” he said.

“At this point, you can’t even blame the thekedaar [contractor]. How will he get me to work given the circumstances? I would rather go back home and work on the fields for around the same wage; at least I’ll get to see my family more often,” he added.

Gyanesh Kumar from Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh said while the plying of state-run, as well as private buses this year, was a significant relief for those seeking to go home, journeys had gotten more expensive.

“I used to be able to reach home in around ₹250 to ₹300 earlier. Now they charge around ₹50 to ₹100 more — both public and private buses; the government should have at least thought about maintaining reasonable fares for people like us,” he said. “Here we are struggling to fill our stomachs more than once a day and now this additional expenditure only to be able to go home seems more than unfair,” he also said.


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 6:11:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/as-uncertainty-looms-over-lockdowns-migrants-scramble-to-leave-gb-nagar/article34575023.ece

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