With the countdown for paddy sowing in Punjab already on, two buses carrying the first batch of 40 migrant workers rolled into Barnala Friday, with locals welcoming the labourers with garlands. Later, all 40 were quarantined inside tubewell rooms located in different farms. They will be tested for coronavirus on Saturday. The arrival marked beginning of the return of migrant workers to Punjab for farm work amid the continuing exodus to their home states.
On Friday, industry too said that it was willing to offer free tickets for migrants to return in order to work at their units.
The two buses that reached Baranla were arranged by Bharti Kisan Union (Lakhowal) group from the district, with 50 per cent cost of travel to be shared by the migrants, and rest by the farmers.
“These workers have come back from Pilibhit in UP and Motihari in Bihar. For Bihar, we have spent 1.20 lakh on a bus, while for UP workers, we have spent Rs 65,000 for a bus. Out of this, 50 per cent will be compensated by the workers, while the rest has been paid by us as we have to get paddy transplantation done. These workers have come to villages Chananwal, Chhiniwal and Kaire. They have been coming to our villages for the past many years and hence they are like a family to us. We took permission from DC Barnala and sent a buses from Barnala to bring back the workers,” said Jagseer Singh Seera, president of BKU (Lakhowal), Barnala unit
He added: “75 more buses are being sent to UP and Bihar to bring our workers back and this way we will be able to address labour shortage.”
Jagseer, who hails from Chhiniwal village, said, “We had staged dharnas in Barnala to get this permission. Our labour too had no work in Bihar and UP and hence they too were desperate to come back.”
Dr G B Singh, Civil Surgeon, Barnala said,”Workers are in villages and we will be testing them tomorrow. However, as of now all are asymptomatic.”
About plans to send more buses, Jagmohan Singh, president of BKU (Dakaunda), said, “Every district has told farmers to fill a performa given by them so as to seek permission for bringing workers back and many farmers are doing it.”
Jagseer added,”Local labour cannot meet our demand as in my village 4,500 acres has to be transplanted and we have only 150 workers, hence dependency on UP, Bihar workers. Moreover, they were charging Rs 6,500 per acre while this labour has agreed on Rs 4,500 per acre. Last year migrant labour had taken Rs 2,500 per acre from us. Our cost of per acre transplantation will increase this season.”
Meanwhile, even industry is desperate to bring their workers back. Tarun Bawa Jain, president of Bahadurke Dyeing Association, said, “In our area, over 40,000 workers work in various units and as of now, we are not even having 5,000 workers. Most of them work on contract and now we have told the contractor who hires them for us that we can pay for their tickets to bring them back. Labour is happy with this proposal and we are hopeful that they will be back in a week or ten days as not many trains have started as of now from UP or Bihar. We will compensate for the local transportation expenses and food charges as well during the journey, it will not cost us more than Rs 2,000 per worker. We have told them that we can transfer this money in their accounts, as we need labour and they need work.”
Most dyeing unit workers had gone back in March and now want to return. Some had gone back last month, and now their employers want them back.
Rahul Ahuja, chairman of CII, Punjab, said,” I have heard that a number of units are ready to pay for train tickets of their workers. It is a mutual arrangement. We have started getting orders, but we have thin work force. Units have to run.”
DS Chawla, president of United Cycles Parts and Manufacturers Association (UCPMA), said,”Yes, few units are making such arrangements individually, at the same time, we have also requested Punjab Industry Minister to help us in bringing workers back when he visited Ludhiana on Thursday.”
Punjab Industry Minister Sunder Sham Arora told industry representatives that Punjab government had placed a demand before centre government for allocation of trains to bring workers back.
Meanwhile so far, nearly 5.45 lakh workers have already gone to UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, while nearly 18 lakh had registered to go back. Apart from this, 20,000 have registered from UP to come back to Punjab, while 12,000 want to come back to Punjab from Bihar as per the Punjab government’s data.
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