Nearly 1,300 powerloom workers from Ganjam district of Odisha returned to Surat on a special train chartered by the Pravasi Shramik Suraksha Manch (PSSM), a labour union wing working under NGO Ajeevika Bureau, on Friday.
Three of the workers who arrived by the “Powerloom Workers Express” early on Friday tested positive for Covid-19 and were admitted to Covid Samras Centre at Veer Narmad South Gujarat University. Home First, a Surat-based microfinance company, sponsored the train tickets for the workers.
Thousands of workers in the textile and diamond industries in Surat left for their native places during the Covid-19 lockdown early this year.
The NGO working for powerloom workers in Surat found that a large number of workers from different villages of Ganjam district in Odisha wanted to return but could not afford train tickets. The PSSM approached Home First, which agreed to sponsor the train tickets of the workers.
The PSSM also met Western Railway authorities who agreed to allot a special train to bring the workers from Odisha to Surat.
Ajeevika Bureau executive co-ordinator Sanjay Patel said, “On Wednesday, we held a meeting with Surat Municipal Commissioner BN Pani and made arrangements to do rapid antigen test (RAT) on workers who are above 40 years old at the Surat railway station. Out of 1,296 workers who returned, RAT was done on around 300, of which three were positive and were shifted to Samras Covid Centre.”
Srikant Raut, Odiya community leader in Surat, who also worked to bring back the labourers from Odisha, said, “We held a door-to-door survey and identified those who could not afford the train fares. The list was later submitted to Western Railway authorities along with Aadhaar card details for purchasing the tickets.” He added that there were many more who were willing to return.
Uttam Pradhan (32), native of Ganjam district in Odisha, said, “I left Surat in June by a special Shramik train. Earlier my wife and daughter (5), used to stay with me in a rented house. Now I have left them at my native place, where I was helping my father in the agricultural fields. But the income was not sufficient. I came back to earn some money to educate my daughter so that she doesn’t face such hardships… Once my income is steady, I will bring back my family.”
Prabhakar Pradhan (40), another powerloom worker who returned, said, “I was working in a textile factory at Varachha for 10 years and returned to my native place in Ganjam district in May where I was doing petty jobs. I was looking for an opportunity to return but could not afford train tickets. I am thankful to PSSM that they arranged ticket for me. I will work hard and earn some money to pay off the debts I took for my daughter’s wedding.”
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