When Raman Yadav boarded the Patna-bound Air India flight on Saturday morning from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport, all he could think of was reaching his home in Bihar’s Buxar district at the earliest. His wife and parents were waiting for him and, determined to put the ordeal he went through in war-torn Iraq behind him, he sat making mental calculations. Yadav had taken a loan from the village moneylender to pay the job placement agency and he will get his two bighas of land back only after he repays it.
On Saturday afternoon, a different problem awaited him and 14 other workers from Bihar, who had arrived in Delhi on Friday from Najaf on a special plane. Soon after landing, they found themselves at Patna airport without train tickets, money to return home or a place to stay.
“I have to go to my village Pokhara, about 150 km from Patna. When we returned from Iraq, an official from Patna received us in Delhi and took us to Bihar Bhavan. We were given food and our stay was comfortable. We were promised we would be taken home. But on reaching here, officials from the labour department said they would drop us at Patna junction, from where we have to make our own arrangements. When we asked for train tickets or money to buy them, they said they have orders only to leave us till the railway station. We do not have money to even buy a bottle of water,” Yadav said.
The father of three spoke to his younger brother, a landless farmer, about the problem but was told even he does not have enough money to travel to Patna. “I am tense. The sahukar will take away my land girvi with him if he does not get Rs 1.7 lakh. I was hoping to recover the money from the job agents but they are not answering the phone. We have low hopes of getting out dues from our employer in Iraq,” he said.
Lal Mahto (35) from Ara district, 50 km from Patna, is among those stranded at Patna airport. Mahto had gone to Iraq four months ago after the marriage of his second daughter was fixed. “I wanted to collect money for her marriage and for my sons’ fees,” Mahto, who has six children, said.
Now, without a train or bus ticket or any money, he has decided to travel without a ticket. If the TT catches him, he would tell him “to take up the matter with the labour department”. “Had they told me in Delhi they won’t give us a train ticket, I would have asked a relative to receive me,” he said.
Manoj Singh (26) said the workers have been without food and water for hours. “It has been over four hours since we had water. Is this how the government wants to treat us? The Punjab government had arranged buses to drop their people at their doorstep.”
Bihar labour commissioner Suresh Kumar Sinha admitted there might have been a “lack of coordination”. “Though there are no written instructions about people coming from Iraq, we coordinate with the district administration to send such people their homes, bearing their travel, transit boarding and food expenses,” he said.
Sinha said the labour resources department had sent home 41 people in the first batch, five in the second and 15 in the third. “There may have been lack of coordination between district authorities and labour resources department in today’s case,” he said.
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