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Coronavirus lockdown: Registered to return, migrants in Punjab start backing out

Only 20% sent back in three weeks, special trains on track, but district authorities say rush is starting to fizzle out.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Updated: May 27, 2020 3:00:17 pm
Coronavirus lockdown: Registered to return, migrants in Punjab start backing out Sheela Devi, from Ambedkar Nagar in UP, waits for bus to railway station in Ludhiana, Tuesday. (Express Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

While a huge number of migrants in Punjab, mainly from UP and Bihar, had registered on the government’s portal to return to their native places, only 20 per cent among those have actually gone back despite the state government sending over 300 Shramik trains in the past three weeks.

The dwindling rush in UP and Bihar trains has been visible with several leaving with just 40 per cent occupancy of the total allotted berths. Strangely, this was also true for districts which had a large number of migrants registered with the authorities to leave. The maximum labourers who had registered to return were from UP and Bihar at 88 per cent of the total registrations.

On Monday, four trains chugged off from Jalandhar, including three to Bihar and one to UP. These trains were allotted 1,600 berths each (6,400 total), but less than 3,000 passengers could be sent from five districts including Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Nawanshahr and Pathankot.

A Deputy Commissioners from the Doaba region said that for the past couple of days, trains — especially those bound for UP districts — are not being filled, adding that they have been calling the registered migrants repeatedly but most of them have changed their minds.

In fact at several places, migrants are being brought from nearby districts to fill up the berths.

Out of the state’s 22 districts, in six less that 10 per cent registered migrants have been sent back till date. In the other five districts, the number is below 15 per cent. There are seven districts from where 16 per cent to 25 per cent migrants could be sent, while four districts have sent back 28 per cent to 42 per cent of the registered migrants.

Moga district tops the chart by sending 42 per cent of the total registered migrants followed by Rupnagar which had sent 37.5 per cent of the total registered till May 25.

Jalandhar (30.7 per cent) is at number three, while Muktsar Sahib district is at the bottom from where only 0.07 migrants have left the district for their native states. From Nawanshahr and Sangrur districts too, only 4.5 per cent and 6.2 per cent of the registered migrants have returned, respectively.

Data sourced from the Punjab government’s portal revealed that till date 17,77,240 migrants have registered themselves for returning their home states out of which 3,45,524 could be sent, which comes to around 19.4 per cent of the total registered.

Sitting inside his cramped rented room that he shares with three others in Phagwara’s Hadiabad area, Raju Kumar (19) said that he had given up his plan to go back to his native village Baija Patti in Bihar’s Araria district. The turnabout came after the 19-year-old’s friend, who had made it back ahead of him, spoke to him over phone after reaching Bihar.

Talking to The Indian Express, Raju, who had registered for the Shramik train journey on May 3 along with five of his friends, said: “Mera dost gaya hai. Usko school mein rakha hai 21 din ke liye. Voh keh ratha tha ki agar kaam mil raha hai to na ana isliye hum paacnh log nahin ja rahe ab. Hume kaam bhi mil gaya hai. Aur agar ek baar chale gaye to vapasi pata nahin kab hogi jis se kaam ka nuksan hoga aur vahan bhi vaile baithna padega (A friend of mine who had recently gone back in the special train told me that he has been kept at a quarantine centre for 21 days. He told me not to come if I have work available here. So, the five of us have decided not to go. Once we go home, no one knows when we will be able to return. Also, we will have to sit idle there).” Raju added that he has now joined back his construction work.

Mithun Kumar (26), a tailor in Begowal in Kapurthala district, revealed that he too had cancelled his plan to return to Kisanganj district in Bihar despite registering on May 3. He added that a friend had called him after returning and asked him to stay put as conditions were not good back home.“I am getting work here. My eight friends who are still here are also happy and our families have told us not to come back as circumstances are not good there due to return of lakhs of labourers to Bihar from across the country,” he said.

Nitin (20), a tile worker who originally hails from Gorakhpur in UP, too got a call from fellow workers who had returned and after that he cancelled his trip.

Mohammad from Purnia in Bihar said he learnt about his friends being in quarantine after returning and changed his mind.

“They were put in quarantine and are facing several problems related to food and other things,” said Mohammad, a migrant who lives in Nakodar.

Nodal Officer, Shramik Trains, Jalandhar district, Babita Kler said that in the initial weeks there was a huge rush of the migrants who wanted to return to their home states but now the rush had decreased as migrants were again finding work.

Another senior officer pointed out that number registered migrants was high due to some migrants registering themselves more than once using different mobile numbers.

Meanwhile, after Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh’s directions, district authorities in Doaba region have been keeping a special tab on the highways to stop those heading home on foot or on bicycles. Nanwanshahr DC Vinay Bublani said that in his district, large number of migrants had already returned to their workplaces with the opening of businesses and very few were now expressing their wish to return their homes states.

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