On a day Chief Minister Amarinder Singh claimed an estimated one million migrant labourers in the state wanted to go back to their home states, the district authorities in Punjab said they were yet to receive any request from the migrants who want to go back. This came a day after the Centre issued fresh guidelines for interstate movement of stranded migrant labourers.
“We have not received any request from migrant labourers from UP and Bihar. We are preparing data bank of all migrants, including those who want to return to their home states,” said Kapurthala Deputy Commissioner Deepti Uppal. She added that talks are on with the J&K government to send Kashmiris home.
Nawanshahr Deputy Commissioner Vinay Bublani said, “I have asked my officers to prepare a list of migrant labourers who want to return to their home state. But they have not got any application so far. Mostly farm labourers are here and they are busy in grain markets for wheat procurement. They will not go back before the season is over.”
Officials working in the Jalandhar Deputy Commissioner office said that a plan is being prepared in which a list of such labourers will be made who want to return to their home. Hoshiarpur Deputy Commissioner’s office too has not got any request by the migrants so far.
As per the Punjab government records, there are 12.29 lakh migrant labourers in Punjab. Out of them, around 6.84 lakh are registered on the COVA App of the government.
The president of the Focal Point Industrial Area Association and convener of North Chamber of Small and Medium Industries, Narinder Saggu, said that several migrants have already left for their hometown during the first few days of the lockdown. Now labourers expect some of the industries to open right now. “Still, there are many who want to return because industries are also working at 30% to 40% of their total capacity. In such a condition, all labourers cannot get work at the moment”, he said.
“Nearly 450 small scale and medium industrial units in sports, hand tool, surgical and pipe fitting have already opened in Jalandhar in which 16,000 workers have already started work,” said Saggu, adding that more units will be opened in the coming days.
There are around 80,000 migrant labourers who are working in the small scale and a cottage industry of Jalandhar.
“My fellow worker got work in the factory but I could not because factory has only called 30 persons out of 100 right now and now I will wait here to get my work back,” said Parkash Sahu from Gorakhpur in UP who works in handpipe fitting industry .
Punjab Industry Minister Sunder Sham Arora said that already the majority of industrial units have been opened across the state and a large number of labourers have returned to their work. At the moment no such request from migrants has been received because our industrial units are taking care of them, he claimed.
The labour engaged in the farming sector said that they would go after the wheat procurement season is over. “Our season is going on. After this spring, maize procurement will start in the mandies. We will get some work there too,” said Mandal Pardhan, Migrant Labour from Bihar’s Bhaglpur district working at Jalandhar grain market, adding that there are around 20 people from the same district who had decided to work here till the time trains start running.
Shehzad, a civil work labourer, from Sharanpur, said that he wanted to return to his family but he could not get any permission for this for the past over a month despite visiting the district office many times.
Addressing Deputy Commissioners through a video Conference, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh stated that the government’s estimate of migrant labourers in the state who want to go back to their home states is about one million.
Citing the Union Home Ministry’s orders of April 29, he said he had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking special trains for these migrants stuck due to the lockdown.
‘Estimates indicate that nearly one million workers will need transport to go back to their states,” a government statement quoted him as saying, adding that the only feasible option in the circumstances was to arrange “special trains, which the Railways may run from point to point, keeping in view the number of persons to be transported to a given destination.”
Capt directed all DCs to prepare state-wise data of migrant labourers to coordinate their movement. He also announced that one officer had been assigned to each state for coordinating the return of stranded migrants.
He pointed out that Ludhiana alone had over 7 lakh migrant labourers, with the whole of Punjab having over a million of them. Though data was still being collated, approximately 70 per cent of the labourers in Punjab hailed from Bihar, the CM said, adding that the movement of such large numbers was possible only through trains, with proper screening to be done at the time of departure.
The CM asked the DCs to start preparing database of migrant labourers state-wise to ensure their smooth return.
Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh informed the video conference that as per protocol, the DCs have to get the migrants in their respective districts screened and give them certificates, following which the state control room is required to provide the state concerned the details of the migrant with contact number. There was no ban on sending the migrants in private buses, he clarified in response to a concern raised by Ludhiana DC in this regard.
The Ministry of Home Affairs had on Wednesday allowed inter-state movement of migrant workers while directing the states that “buses shall be used for transport of a group of persons, of course after proper sanitization and maintaining social distancing norms in seating.”
Shortage of food packets
In response to concerns expressed over shortage of food packets in some districts in view of the extended lockdown, the Chief Minister directed the Food Department to increase the quota of ration to be distributed to migrants and non-smart card holders. “Nobody should remain hungry,” he stressed.
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