Kerala

Migrants workers gathering: Kerala police rule out political conspiracy

Migrant workers stage a protest, demanding means of transport to travel to their respective villages, during a nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, at Paippad village in Kottayam district, Sunday, March 29, 2020.

Migrant workers stage a protest, demanding means of transport to travel to their respective villages, during a nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, at Paippad village in Kottayam district, Sunday, March 29, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Workforce managers could have tried to shrug off their accountability to the workers by instigating them to travel home, says official

The worrying turnout of migrant workers in significant numbers at Payippadu in Kottayam during COVID-19 lockdown on Sunday was unlikely to be the consequence of a conspiracy by any one political party or religious group, according to Kerala police officials.

A preliminary investigation by the police has suggested that some labour contractors might have orchestrated the gathering.

“The workforce managers appeared to have surmised that it could be a losing proposition to afford the wages, stay and food of labourers throughout the entire period of the shutdown”, a senior official told The Hindu. They could have tried to shrug off their accountability to the other-State workers by instigating them to travel home.

It was also possible that the contractors had motivated the gullible among the labourers to gather in public to pressure the district administration into accommodating their demand to go home. The police investigation into the incident was still at a nascent stage. There could be arrests and registration of cases.

Also read: In Kerala, migrants at crossroads over COVID-19 fears

The curfew violation had occurred during a crucial period of the State’s stringent disease control exercise. It had caught the government by surprise and set alarm bells ringing in the public health establishment.

The police said the seemingly impromptu gathering of workers had occurred a few days after the taluk authorities summoned local labour contractors and advised them to ensure the welfare of migrant workers employed by them.

Eight middlemen under scanner

The police said they suspected that at least a few of the contractors might have instigated the workers to leave to save on costs. They said eight of the middlemen were under their scanner.

Also read: In Kerala, livelihood at stake for many migrants

Investigators said the mass movement of migrant workers out of New Delhi and the report that the government there had arranged buses for migrant workers to travel home had galvanised the workers in Payippadu for mass action on the street.

Investigators said they had received information about the developments in New Delhi on Odia and Hindi WhatsApp groups.

The workers were also upset about the diet served by local authorities as it did not suit their palate. The district administration in Kottayam has redeemed the grievance by supplying the labourers provisions and fuel to cook food.

The incident at Payippadu prompted police and revenue officials to inspect labour camps across Kerala on Monday. Inspectors found many living in crowded shelters with minimal toilet facility. The police also came across instances of landlords rationing power and water in houses rented by migrant workers.

Also read: Among the migrants workers in Kerala, the dilemma is to leave or not to leave

In some areas, local traders and moneylenders had prevented the workers from moving to camps because they feared they would not get back their debts. In Malappuram, the police arrested a resident who had tried to spread alarmist rumours among migrant workers.

Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran told reporters here that many labourers were unwilling to move out of their rented premises to government camps out of the fear that their landlords would not allow them back.

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Printable version | Jul 2, 2020 12:17:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/migrants-workers-gathering-kerala-police-rule-out-political-conspiracy/article31205063.ece

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