Biswa Ranjan, 29, was among the 100-odd workers flown down from Odisha to work on the underground section — the costliest part — of the Ahmedabad metro rail project.
He was in a batch of the 23 workers who landed on June 20 in Ahmedabad from Bhubaneswar and are now quarantined.
These workers who are “tunnelling experts” are among the 300-odd migrant workforce who will be brought back by second week of July from five states, officials working with the Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation (GMRC) said.
“This is the first time I sat on an airplane. Usually I travel by train. My family was completely against my leaving for Ahmedabad. We had to come in compulsion as we had left the work incomplete and the labour contractor who had brought us to Ahmedabad for the project, his name too was getting tarnished,” Ranjan says.
“There is not even a rupee to be earned back home, what would we do there too?” says Ranjan adding that the part of the project they would work on, had only two months to go before the deadline.
It was in the first week of March that Ranjan had boarded a bus with 70 others and travelled to his native village of Basantpur, in Nayagarh district 30 kilometres from Bhubaneswar.
Ranjan who has been working on the Ahmedabad metro project since March 2018 and earns about Rs 30,000 a month says, “We have been promised a good place to stay. The company will also bear the cost of food.” Ranjan has previously worked on Delhi and Jaipur metro projects.
“I went home before the lockdown for my brother’s wedding, and was to return when the lockdown happened,” he told this paper.
Of the 250-odd workers from Odisha, only 7-8 stayed back, while the rest went home by whatever mode came their way.
Deepak Kumar Swain, 24, Ranjan’s co-worker on the project is also quarantined with him at the labour colony in Mirzapur, in the walled city of Ahmedabad, where they will begin work on the toughest part of the project, in the Kalupur section.
Also from Nayagarh district, Swain says, he left for home on April 1 to be with his family, but is happy to be back.
“The company is looking after all our needs,” he told this paper.
Gujarat accounts for a total of 27.09 per cent of migrants who returned to Odisha after the lockdown, which is the highest among returnees compared to other labour destination states, according to the Odisha government dashboard.
A total of 5,17,534 people have returned via road and railways which is accounted for. Of these 1,40,224 are from Gujarat alone. As many as 1,28,737 have returned by trains while 11,487 via road.
The cost of flying down workers from Odisha has been borne by Larsen & Toubro (L&T) which is constructing a portion of the 6.83 kilometre-long underground section of the metro rail which is the costliest part of a 40-kilometer long Phase-I of the Ahmedabad metro project. The workers from Odisha are part of the “tunneling crew” that consists of ring builders, erection operators, loco operators among others.
“L&T will be bringing back 100-odd workers by flight. They will be coming in three different batches,” Amit Gupta, Chief General Manager (Corporate Planning), GMRC told The Indian Express.
The underground section of 4.38 kilometers which involves construction of two underground metro stations at Shahpur and Gheekanta was awarded to L&T on January 2017. A second section of 2.45 kilometres was given to Afcon Infrastructure Ltd in March 2017 which includes development of Kalupur metro station and Kankaria East station. Both these sections are part of the East-west corridor of the metro rail a part of which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March 2019.
This section is about 30 meters deep and bypasses several heritage and ASI protected monuments in the old city.
According to official sources, L&T was supposed to finish the underground sections by April 2020. However, the Covid-19 lockdown delayed the completion and the workers had to be flown in on “an urgent basis to complete the task.” L&T expects to finish the work “on priority” in the next couple of months. “People are afraid to come to western part of India as the Covid situation has not improved. We are having a hard time trying to convince them to return,” said an official from L&T.
While GMRC officials said that the underground section handled by Afcon Infrastructure has already been completed, about 20 per cent of the civil work remain for the section handled by L&T. This incomplete work is largely in the Gheekanta and Shahpur section.
Apart from these 100 workers from Odisha, the contractors of GMRC will be bringing in 250 more migrant workers from Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh to work on the project. These workforce will be brought through trains and buses.
(Inputs from Aishwarya Mohanty in Vadodara)
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