Coronavirus | Lockdown triggers belated march of migrants from hills in Arunachal

Local authorities are ensuring relief is provided in camps after arduous trek

Updated - April 06, 2020 01:36 am IST

Published - April 05, 2020 09:27 pm IST - GUWAHATI

It took nine hours for Dipu Sonowal and 24 other construction workers to trek 23 km from a remote rural road project site to a checkpoint between Boleng, the headquarters of Siang district in Arunachal Pradesh and Pangin town, on Saturday afternoon.

Also read | COVID-19 | 31 cases reported in northeast; 25 in Assam alone

They would have walked another 80 km to their villages around Jonai in Assam’s Dhemaji district had a police team not caught them. The police took them uphill to a relief camp in Boleng where they found 66 other migrant workers, some of whom walked from their project sites 56 km away.

“We got to know about the lockdown [from March 24 midnight] belatedly because of network issues at Ibuk village where we were engaged in a PMGSY (Prime Minister’s Gram Sadak Yojana) project. But we thought we could finish off a culvert and retaining walls until the contractor ran out of material and we ran out of food,” said Mr. Sonowal, from Sonowal Kathoni village in Assam.

Prabin Boro, from Bahirjilai village in Assam, had to spend a night in the jungle with six others from their PMGSY project further uphill. “People here are generally helpful, but villages along the way were not letting strangers enter because of fear of getting some disease,” he said.

Siang Deputy Commissioner (DC) Rajeev Takuk said most of the projects, including the 3MW Subbung hydro-electric project, are at an average altitude of 500 m, although the district has places at 2,000 m. He agreed that walking 30-50 km across steep hills was similar to making 150 km on foot in the plains.

“Unless people use jungle tracks, they have to take the only road from the district to Assam. They were thus brought to the relief camp where they are being provided food items despite the hardships we are facing,” Mr. Takuk told The Hindu , adding the migrant workers would be sent back home at an appropriate time.

District Disaster Management Officer Karik Mize said they expected more migrant labourers to come from other project sites. “Boleng only has a rural bank with low cash and most of the labourers do not have accounts. We have had to tweak the procedures to provide cash to those who did not opt for food items,” he said.

Rajesh Mibang, a local labour union leader said they were coordinating with contractors for ensuring the migrant workers, including 118 staying outside the relief camp, have adequate food.

There have been reports of labourers trekking down from project sites in higher altitudes in districts such as Anjaw and Kurung Kumey.

“We are helping labourers facing trouble with ration and all,” Anjaw Deputy Commissioner Dagbom Riba said.

Otem Jamoh, Additional DC at Nyapin in Kurung Kumey said contractors have been kept in the loop to ensure relief to the labourers.

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