Maharashtra Transport Minister Anil Parab, in an interview to The Indian Express, speaks about the reasons behind the state’s keenness to send migrant workers back to their native states and the logistics worked out by the state to facilitate this mass movement.
The Maharashtra government seems very keen on sending migrants stuck due to the lockdown back to their states. Why is the government in such a hurry?
There are different views on this. A section of migrants is keen to return home. In Mumbai’s slums, eight-ten people stay cloistered in one room. Some of them work during the day while others work at night. However, due to the lockdown, everyone is now cloistered in one tiny room. These are people who have sizeable homes in their native states and there is a feeling among them that they can’t stay like this anymore and want to go back. When businesses resume, the same people may very well choose not to go back. As for our keenness on sending people back, everything depends on what happens after May 3 and how many people remain eager to go back.
How many migrants in the state are keen to go back?
An exact number is difficult as there are different types of migrants. There are some who stay only for two-three months, some come here for one-two years and some stay for three years and more. The most vulnerable are, however, those who earn their livelihood daily. The state is taking care of them and providing them meals daily. However, this group is keen on returning home. As of now district collectors are collating data of total migrants but we are yet to get an exact number of people who want to go back. The district collectors are taking information of registered workers from the labour department and also gathering information on non-registered workers. Whenever the government announces the decision to transport the workers and sets up a registration process for it, only then we will know the exact numbers.
How will the logistics of sending the migrants back be worked out. Will they have to register? Do they need to show some documentation?
Certainly, they will have to be registered with the government authorities — police or district collectors. They should have at least one identity card. People who do not have access to any shelter will be the first who will be moved out.
Has the Centre committed itself to helping the state in facilitating this movement of migrants?
We have demanded that the Centre should start trains for their transportation as it is easier to send them by train. As part of our own preparations, we have worked out the exact details of number of buses we have in each division. For example, we have to send the buses to Kota today. Since Kota is nearer to Dhule, we have told Dhule bus depot to send 100 buses from there. The division-wise preparation has been done and we will send buses from divisions which are closer to the states requesting transportation of their workers.
Movement of migrants by buses will require a very large fleet? Are you looking at hiring private buses as well?
We can transport only 20-22 passengers in one ST bus as we have to follow social distancing norms. So, we have kept 10,000 ST buses ready and can be used anytime the government tells us. Around 1.5 lakh people can be transported by these buses. We have received verbal assurance from private bus operators that they are willing to provide their buses. However, as of now, we will use state transport buses first.
What is the projected cost of such an exercise? Who foots the bill?
The Maharashtra government will bear the cost of bringing our people from other states. If the migrants are to be transported, then it will have to be decided whether workers will pay or the Maharashtra government or their governments. These discussions have not taken place yet.
Is the state also looking at measures to ensure migrants don’t leave? They are an important component of the state’s workforce.
Our food distribution system has acted as a channel of communication with these workers. We are getting feedback that some of them want to stay here provided they get work. The only reason they want to leave is absence of work. A decision on transportation of migrants will happen only after May 3. After that, if work activities begin (in places where the lockdown is eased), they may not want to go back or the number of people who want to go may shrink.
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