Labour demand in farms, industries, and lack of prospects back home have spurred another movement. A look at the changing scene in three states.
Farm labourers have started returning and industries are offering free tickets to workers for their return journey. In Barnala district, the Bharti Kisan Union (Lakhowal) arranged two buses that brought back 40 labourers. They have been quarantined in tubewell rooms for the time-being. Farmers garlanded them when they reached. “These workers have come back from Pilibhit in UP and Motihari in Bihar. We spent Rs 1.20 lakh on the bus to Bihar and Rs 65,000 on the bus sent to UP. Out of this, 50 per cent will be paid by the workers. These workers have been coming to our villages for many years and are like family to us. We took permission from the DC and then sent the buses. As many as 75 more buses are being sent to UP and Bihar to bring workers back,” said Jagseer Singh Seera, president of the farmers’ outfit. “We staged dharnas before we got permission. The labourers, too, had no work in Bihar and UP and were desperate to come back.” Barnala civil surgeon Dr G B Singh said: “We will test the workers tomorrow. But, none of them have any symptoms of Covid-19.”
Besides farmers, even industrialists are keen 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, but currently, we don’t even have 10,000 workers. We have told the labour contractor that we can pay for their tickets to bring them back. The labourers are happy with the proposal and we hope they will be back in a week or 10 days as not many trains have started from UP or Bihar. We need labour and they need work.”
Rahul Ahuja, chairman of the CII branch of Punjab, said, “I have heard that a number of units are offering train tickets to their workers. If this is being done, it is mutual adjustment, After all, they have to run their units. We have started getting orders, but we have a thin workforce.” Sources said some industrialists have also offered tickets in AC compartments.
More than 4,500 workers from the tribal-dominated Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh have returned to Gujarat over the last few days. For some, their employers arranged the transport, while the others did it on their own.
Workers from Jhabua are spread across 14 districts of Gujarat, including Surat, Vadodara and Morbi.
Jhabua collector Prabal Sepaha told The Indian Express that the workers who left for Gujarat are skilled, and earn much more there than they would get under MGNREGA. He said the district did provide nearly one lakh workers with employment under MGNREGA, but many were not willing to do such jobs.
Some Jhabua workers were called by the Railways to Mumbai for civil construction and track maintenance work weeks ago. Since the request had come from a government agency, the district administration quickly complied and the workers returned by road.
The collector said workers from Jhabua, like many other parts of Madhya Pradesh, are in demand for construction works in Gujarat where they are paid better as compared to other places.
Over 100 migrant workers from Muzaffarpur left for districts in Punjab and for a steel plant in Mathura on Thursday and Friday, respectively, on buses arranged by labour contractors.
These workers are from two panchayat areas in Minapur block of Muzaffarpur.
Rakesh Yadav, who works at a Ludhiana village, said: “Paddy season is underway, so we are going. In any case, Bihar cannot hold us back for a long time.”
Koyli panchayat mukhiya Ajay Kumar Sahni said: “Nineteen workers returned to work in Punjab fields Friday. Over 1,000 people returned to my panchayat. Most of them have been in touch with their previous employers or labour contractors.”
Local labour contractors have reportedly arranged 10 buses to carry another set of workers back to their workplaces in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.
Siyakant Sah, a labour contractor, said: “As some workers wanted to leave, we facilitated their return. Some want to stay back till Dussehra. But we have been getting calls from several states to send back workers.”
Pintoo Singh is managing director with Activefacility resource services private limited, a Bengaluru-based company that arranges labour force. “I am under pressure to bring back labourers in two months as construction and other works are solely dependent on workforce from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.”
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