New Delhi, Jun 06, 2020: Coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdown saw India waking up to a migrant crisis of its own. India has around 10 crore migrant labourers bearing the growth story flag.
The lockdown suddenly found them redundant humanity. A reverse migration flowed. That how many migrant labourers have returned home during five phases of coronavirus lockdown is not accurately known, IndiaToday reported.
The Shramik Special trains ferried some 57 lakh migrants back home from their places of work. There is no record of those who worked their own way or took help of some good Samaritans to reach their destination.
Now, when India is opening up, it needs its growth story to be telecast again. Credit ratings agencies have already sounded alarm bells for Indian economy. The factories, construction sites, infrastructure projects, shops, malls, restaurants and other such establishments need those men and women back to their positions.
They all want a counter reverse-migration to set off. Some are actually going extra miles to bring back migrant labourers who had barely managed to reach home. Many vowed on TV/MoJo cameras never to return to these cities which deserted them when they needed someone have their back.
A Maharashtra-based textile company manager said only last week that his factories have resumed operations but does not have even a third of the workforce. The company had around 1,500 employees before lockdown. Now, it has only about 200-300 workers, the manager complained.
Tamil Nadu, another industrially developed state, is too yearning for the return of migrant labourers. In fact, reports say three Chennai-based real estate developers have chartered a passenger plane to bring back some 150 labourers from Bihar, some time after June 15.
Others have made requests to the Indian Railways to run a reverse Shramik Special trains to bring all those migrant workers back. Business owners in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana are also lining to hire fleets of vehicles to bring back labourers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In Punjab, big land-owning farmers are calling up labouers in Bihar promising them three-four times better payment for sowing paddy compared to pre-lockdown period.
Kerala needs special mention. It received praise for both handling of Covid-19 cases and catering to the needs of vulnerable sections, but saw flight of migrant workers. They ran out of resources and could not get government help.
Now Kerala is laying out an extensive plan under which the migrant labouers will be expressly called guest workers. The Kerala government is expanding its Awas scheme for all guest workers under existing Apna Ghar project.
Every district of Kerala is to have Apna Ghar complexes for migrant workers. The name of the project itself indicates prevalence of migrant workers from Hindi speaking states. Kerala has more than 25 lakh migrant workers.
Additionally, Kerala has announced a medical coverage of Rs 25,000 to all guest workers in all government hospitals.
Besides, even the central government needs migrant labourers for key defence infrastructure projects. The defence ministry has requested the railways to run 11 special trains to ferry labourers for speedier construction of 255 km Daulat Beg Oldie-Darbuk-Shayok road near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. This came in the middle of an India-China face-off and when India is opening its economic activities.
But are these "now home" migrant labourers return?
Most likely. Many have already started saying it is better to survive Covid-19 than die of hunger, which had pushed them out to big cities. Ironically, the special trains which the fleeing migrants wanted to catch are also taking hundreds of them back to coronanised centres such as Delhi and Mumbai again.