Fearing another lockdown, migrants start returning home

A bus carrying migrant workers departing for Assam from Perumbavoor on Wednesday evening.   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Fear of another potential lockdown in the wake of a resurgent pandemic seems to be weighing heavily on migrants in the district as they begin to return home.

Recent restrictions and night curfew have only further accentuated that fear with the uncertainty over getting stranded away from home during the last lockdown still fresh in their memory.

Contract carriages have emerged as their popular mode of transport of which there seems no dearth.

“The promised waiver of quarterly tax of ₹50,000 got stalled in the wake of the Assembly election and this has affected a section of the operators majority of whom could not afford to pay it,” said Bobby Varghese, an Aluva-based operator who though has paid the tax and has operated about 180 such trips since the first lockdown. He charges around ₹5,000 for a trip to West Bengal, which he said, was based on the operational costs including tax in the States the carriages pass through.

George Mathew, coordinator, Progressive Workers Organisation, accused many operators of fleecing desperate migrants in the absence of any regulatory framework in fare fixation. “The government will have to intervene and ensure uninterrupted train services. Also, migrants need to be reassured about their situation in this climate of fear,” he said.

Contract carriages operate in a circuit touching States including Odisha, Bihar, Telangana, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Assam, and Meghalaya.

‘Blow to economy’

Mujeeb Rahman, president, All Kerala Plywood and Block Board Manufacturers Association, lamented that another exodus seems on the anvil just when migrants who had gone en masse to cast their votes in eastern and north-eastern States were about to return. “It will be another blow to the local economy. Contract carriage operators for whom the lucrative trips transporting migrants remains the only lifeline seem to be instigating the return through speculations,” he alleged.

K.A. Mohanan, a Perumbavoor-based contractor, said that assurances to take care of migrants have faltered in the face of anxious calls from their families back home asking them to return.

However, a section of contractors is not dissuading migrants fearing that in the event of a lockdown they may have to bear their expenses as happened last year. Abu Mundatt, a Muvattupuzha-based contractor, said that during the last lockdown, he maintained 12 migrants for 45 days without any work only for them to return home when the lockdown was lifted.

Shibin Jose, director of KLR Facility Management, which supplies manpower for housekeeping in malls and hotels across the State, is keeping his fingers crossed with operational restrictions for malls and hotels kicking in this week. “Lack of work will prompt them to go back home and whether that is the case will be known by this weekend,” he said.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 5:53:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/fearing-another-lockdown-migrants-start-returning-home/article34380426.ece

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