Migrant exodus: States move to reverse trend as manpower crisis threatens revival plan

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Updated: May 06, 2020 11:08 AM

Days after the government eased restrictions to allow migrants to be ferried to their home states, Telangana and Karnataka issued appeals to the migrants to stay back.

Stranded migrants who arrived by a special train from Kerala follow social distancing norms as they prepare to leave the Danapur Station amid COVID-19 lockdown in Patna Monday May 4 2020. (Photo | PTI)

Worried about the impact that the mass exodus of migrants will have on the opening up of the economy, several states are now pulling out all stops to either prevent workers from leaving to their native states or to bring them back. Days after the government eased restrictions to allow migrants to be ferried to their home states, Telangana and Karnataka issued appeals to the migrants to stay back. While Karnataka has suspended further inter-state movement of migrants by trains, Telangana has decided to bring back workers who are willing to return.

On Tuesday, Karnataka Chief Minister held a meeting with builders and pressed for the resumption of construction and other industrial activities to stop the exodus of workers who have been sitting idle for the past 40 days due to the coronavirus-forced lockdown. He assured that the norms would be eased to allow construction and industrial activities in non-red zones.

“I appeal to labourers with folded hands don’t pay heed to any rumours, it is the responsibility of the government to see to it that you get work at the place you were working… don’t take hasty decisions of going to your natives. Stay here and work, as in the past,” he said.

“Directions were given to the ministers to convince the labourers to refrain from returning to their home states,” he tweeted after the meeting where builders reportedly expressed displeasure over the decision to send migrant workers back.

Similar is the situation in Telangana and Goa. In Goa, nearly 80,000 migrant workers, mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have registered themselves to return to their native places. Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, however, made an appeal to the workers to stay back.

“Goa will require manpower. I appeal to them not to go back to their states. They can stay back here as Goa is safe from COVID-19 infection,” Sawant said, adding that the state has already set in motion the process of economic revival.

In Telangana, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao said that a large number of people from Bihar want to come back to work in rice mills in the state. According to news agency ANI, Rao said that there are around 20,000 people from Bihar who are willing to return. He said that the state government is ready to bring them back and make adequate arrangements for them to stay and work in rice mills in the state.

Rao said trains that left from here for Bihar carrying migrants, will be bringing around 1,200 such people. They will work in rice mills in the state. According to data shared by the CM, five Bihar-bound trains left the state on Tuesday and it will return on Thursday with workers.

“People from Bihar work in our rice mills. Those 20,000-22,000 people want to come back from Bihar. The train which is going to Bihar will bring back the rice mill workers from there. We are bringing back 1200 such people tomorrow (Thursday) in this manner,” he said.

“We sent 11 trains today – 5 to Bihar, 1 to Jharkhand, 1 to Rajasthan, 2 to Uttar Pradesh and 2 to Madhya Pradesh. So, 11 trains left from Hyderabad today. I wanted to send 40 trains but we need consent from the concerned states too,” Rao added.

KCR said Telangana considers migrant workers as the partners in the state’s development. He said that the government was providing all facilities to 7.5 lakh workers from other states since the lockdown began. “Those who want to stay back need not worry. If you have any problem dial 100 or approach a local official, MLA or minister,” he said.

The Chief Minister told the migrant workers that they should prefer to stay back as the economic activity was resuming in the state and they could get the work. He pointed out that construction activity has re-started and other activities will also resume soon.

Migration in Bihar is a household strategy as lakhs of people from the state move to other states in search of livelihood due to poor infrastructure in the state. The suspension of economic activities due to coronavirus-forced lockdown left them stranded at their place of work. Initially, the government made arrangements for their stay in their cities of work but their repeated demands to send them back to their home state induced the government to provide relaxation after five weeks of lockdown.

Several states were also demanding that the Centre ease the restrictions to send these works back as they could be a potential threat to the law and order situation. The government is running special trains to send them back. Majority of the migrants belong to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Meanwhile, Rao on Tuesday announced that the lockdown in the state will be extended till 29 May.The nationwide lockdown has been extended till May 17.

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