‘Unlike last time, no mad scramble by migrants to leave before lockdown’

The government decision to go for a week-long Statewide lockdown seems to have evoked mixed response among the migrant community, going by the initial signs a day before the lockdown.

Notwithstanding the impulse among the community to return home at the first sign of uncertainty, the majority of the migrant workers engaged by contractors seems to have chosen to stay back at least for the time being reassured by their employers’ promise to take care of them during the lockdown and give them jobs thereafter. The same, however, cannot be said about the footloose migrants left to fend for themselves.

“They have a propensity to return since the lockdown will render them jobless making their stay unfeasible. It is better for the jobless migrants to return home as unlike the last lockdown when they were well-taken care of, the healthcare sector and even the civil society organisations remain crippled by the fresh onslaught of the pandemic. But the non-payment of wages are holding them back at many places,” said Benoy Peter, executive director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development.

He said that while there is no panic scramble for returning home among migrants as of now, it may change if fatalities rise either here or among their families back at their home States.

S. Chithra, State Labour Commissioner, said that no trend of a panic return is visible yet. “District collectors and joint commissioners have also confirmed it. Migrants seem to be happy with assured work and high wages here. Besides, a large section of those who desired to return have already done so,” she said.

It also seems likely that the government may permit works engaging migrant workers provided they involved little movement and were contained within an area.

While civil society organisations complain that train tickets were not readily available, Railways paint a different picture.

“We have introduced special trains in the West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar belt, which is much in demand among migrants. Reservation counters are working between 8 a.m and 8 p.m like during the pre-Covid days though migrants seem more comfortable with online booking. The Southern Railways headquarters is monitoring the reservation pattern and will introduce more trains, if so warranted. Most special trains have been introduced from Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram,” said a Railway spokesperson.

He said that there was no excessive rush at railway stations on account of the crowd control management system by the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and proper dissemination of information about railway services among migrants by the Labour Department.

RPF sources said that they have tightened access control and crowd management measures with access restricted only to those with confirmed tickets and through a single entry.

Even the Aluva railway station known as the main transit hub of migrants didn’t experience much rush on Friday. “In fact, the train to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh had passed Aluva on Friday morning with only about 50% occupancy compared to trains on Thursday evening that operated full,,” said RPF sources at Aluva.

Meanwhile, private contract carriages operating long-distance trips, the prefered choice of migrants of late, have chosen to suspend their services pending further directions from the government.

“Our association has decided to schedule only services that will cross the Walayar border at the latest by Friday midnight. Besides, the suspension of KSRTC services may hamper the access of migrants to our services since they come from various districts,” said P. I. Tencen who has been operating up to three such services a day from Ernakulam. Routes were scheduled depending on demand and recently services were mostly operated to West Bengal and before that to Assam.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 2:37:42 PM |

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