Twenty-six-year-old Anu Jacob Kurishingal had come to Ahmedabad in December 2019 after she got a job at an academic institution in the city. Faced with an uncertain future, a workplace that closed down, and no money to sustain her rental accommodation, she is among the 5,000-odd Keralites who have registered to leave Gujarat.
“I ran out of money and food few days ago. I am currently being supported by Ahmedabad Kerala Samajam which gave me a kit of essentials items to help me till a train is arranged for me and others to return back to family in Ernakulam district,” said Anu who occupies a single room in Nirnaynagar locality of Ahmedabad.
“I have not been paid. I do not expect my employers to pay when the institution is closed and there is no firm roadmap on when it will open. I have not paid the rent of Rs 5,000 for April. I do not have a television set. How long can I continue like this,” she said adding that she hardly steps out of her room for the fear of contracting Covid-19.
“I cannot afford to fall ill here. With no family or friends around, I also do not trust the medical facilities in Ahmedabad. Reading about the number of deaths, I am sure they are not even close to the healthcare systems back home,” said Anu.
Another Keralite who has listed to return to Kerala is Joykutty Celestine (53) who is stuck at a friend’s place in Khanpur in the old city, ever since the lockdown was announced. Joykutty, a rubber mat trader who visits Ahmedabad two times a year — during Diwali and in March — said, “My return flight to Kerala was on March 25 got cancelled after the lockdown was announced. I am living alone in a house of a friend who managed to leave. I am diabetic and I also suffer from hypertension…”
Joykutty said he even contacted the local MLA of his hometown Kollam for help. “When trains are being arranged for those from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to return, why can’t the Gujarat government do something to help those stranded like us,” he asked.
Till Saturday, 447 Shramik trains left Gujarat for Uttar Pradesh (315), Bihar (46), Odisha (38), Madhya Pradesh (23), Jharkhand (12), Uttarakhand (4), Rajasthan (1) and Manipur (1). Over 6.26 lakh migrants have left the state this month.
According to the Gandhinagar Malayali Samajam, over 5,000 Keralities have registered themselves on Kerala government’s NORKA (Non Resident Keralities Affairs) website.
Geromic George, nodal officer for inter-state movement between Kerala and Gujarat, had written a letter on May 14 to P Bharthi, his counterpart in Gujarat government, stating that 5,088 stranded Keralities have registered on NORKA portal and the “Government of Kerala is willing to facilitate the return of stranded Keralites in Gujarat via special trains. These trains could originate from Ahmedabad and can come to Kerala.”
The Ahmedabad district collector K K Nirala responded the same day stating that a special train was being arranged for first batch of 1,572 passengers on May 16 with stoppages at Kozhikode, Ernakulam and Thriuvanthapuram.
“However, the train could not run as planned as the Government of Kerala did not respond or acknowledge the letter sent by the Ahmedabad district collector,” said Baiju Panoly of Gandhinagar Malayalee Samajam.
“Among workers who are wanting to return, many are skilled workers employed in fabrication or manufacturing units in and around Ahmedabad and are now looking to return as they have no source of income,” said Alex Luckose, a member of Ahmedabad Kerala Samajam. According to him there were at least 1,500 Keralities from Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar who want to return.
Geromic George, nodal IAS officer for inter-state movement, Kerala government, told The Indian Express that he has written to his counterpart P Bharathi in the Gujarat government permitting trains to be run. “We have communicated twice to them (Gujarat government). Trains will start from multiple locations in Gujarat soon,” George said.
In a late night communication on Sunday, Kerala government has requested trains to be operated from Rajkot, Vadodara and Surat.
“In the letter written to us yesterday, Kerala government has raised objection to sending people from hotspots like Ahmedabad. However, they have agreed to run three trains from Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara. They did not want us to collect the train fare and so they are creating a payment gateway with Indian Railways, where passengers selected and approved by the Kerala government will be sent SMS and will be allowed to pay and board the trains,” P Bharathi, the IAS officer who is coordinating evacuation of migrants to southern parts of the country from Gujarat.
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