Andhra Pradesh

Awaiting the migrant

A few days after the clamping of nationwide lockdown on March 24, thousands of migrant workers embarked on a long trek, walking hundreds of kilometres braving the summer heat in the fond hope of reaching their native places in various States of the country. Rendered jobless, starving and staring at an uncertain future caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown, all that the desperate souls wanted at that time was to go back home and reunite with their families.

Some of them reportedly dropped dead in their tracks, though there are no official figures, due to dehydration and starvation while others survived the arduous journey with the help of food and other assistance provided by NGOs and the kind-hearted people of the places they had passed through. Groups of people carrying children and luggage on their backs was a common sight on highways.

Later on, the Central government helped transport thousands of workers back to their home States by Shramik trains.

Not ready to come back yet

Now, after a few months, economic activity is slowly picking up as people of the State are learning to live with coronavirus by taking necessary precautions, but many of the workers seem not willing to come back as COVID-19 infection continues to spread in A.P. On the other hand, they are facing the same transportation problem again. And walking back probably is not an option for them now with the virus widespread in the country.

This has led to a severe shortage of workers and operations in various sectors like agriculture, aquaculture and construction are hit.

According to an estimate, more than two lakh workers from Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Telangana and other States used to work in Andhra Pradesh.

Badly hit

Many workers from Odisha and West Bengal used work at aqua ponds, cold storage plants, and in shrimp and fish processing and packing units.

"Due to shortage of labour we could not harvest the crop on time and suffered huge losses," laments a shrimp farmer K. Venkateswara Rao of East Godavari district.

Agriculture and horticulture sectors are among the worst-hit due to shortage of labour during the ongoing kharif and many agriculturists had to take up operations like sowing and weed removal themselves in West Godavari, Krishna, East Godavari and other districts.

"Hundreds of workers used to come from the border districts in Telangana to pluck jasmine buds in our gardens. But this year the pandemic has kept them away and crops worth crores of rupees have been lost," bemoans a farmer Ramakrishna.

Changing trend

However, there seems to be an increasing trend of workers coming back in buses and trains by following COVID-19 safety protocols, albeit in small numbers.

"Andhra Pradesh is blessed with good natural resources and we can get work throughout the year here. We are about 25 families working in the construction field for the past 10 years here," says a woman worker Kamala of Odisha.

At work places too, managements are arranging sanitisers and masks to prevent the spread of the disease.

Lack of welfare measures for them is another area of concern. "A few years ago, we used to inspect the sites and collect the particulars of the labourers from different States working there as per Inter-State Migrant Workers Act, 1979. But after the introduction of Ease of Doing Business (EoDB), there is no need to obtain permissions for engaging workers from other States, and we don’t have any right to insist on maintaining such records," says an officer, indicating the difficulties in bringing them under the goverment welfare schemes.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2020 8:39:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/awaiting-the-migrant/article32768490.ece

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