At Around 11.30 pm on Friday, about 1,200 migrant labourers from Jharkhand reached Hatia station on a special train from Lingampalli in Telangana.
After being stranded for more than a month due to the lockdown, the relief to be home showed on their faces. But this relief was shadowed by uncertainty about the future.
As they recounted hardships of the past month, some said they would never leave the state for work again. Others said they would have to, for their families.
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Among them were construction workers, carpenters, daily wage labourers and supervisors who worked at the IIT-Hyderabad expansion project site. They earned between Rs 9,000 and Rs 20,000 a month.
As they stepped on the platform, a hoarding put up by the state government greeted them. “Johar! Jharkhand Sarkar aapka ghar aane par swagat karti hai (Welcome! Jharkhand government welcomes you home),” it read. After thermal screening, they were given a rose, a mask, a food packet and water bottles. Officials then guided them to buses going to their districts.
Seated by the window, Sudhir Paswan from Palamu called home to inform of his arrival. “I won’t go there again. I will do farming, but will stay here. I know I won’t earn much, but I cannot handle this again.” Sudhir earned Rs 400 daily. Back home, his family has 26 members and they own a bigha of land.
On the bus to Saraikela, Ajay and Maheshwar Manjhi hold a different view. They said they will work in their fields till the lockdown lifts, but will be “forced to leave” once the situation is normal. The Manjhis left their village since there was no work there. They were working as construction labourers at the IIT-Hyderabad project site. They said jobs under MGNREGA did not fetch enough money to sustain their families. “We have to go. There is no solution,” Ajay said.
When Sandeep Kumar reached his home in Ramgarh district, family members asked him never to leave again. But he is not sure. The 26-year-old, who has studied till Class X, left for Hyderabad in March. He had worked for only 20 days when the lockdown was announced. Hired at Rs 300 per day, Kumar got only a part of his wages after labourers resorted to a violent agitation. “I left home with a dream which has been shattered. I may have to leave again. But if the Jharkhand government provides us work, why would we leave?” he said, adding that he plans to work on the small farm his family owns.
More than 80 per cent of the labour force in Jharkhand is in the unorganised sector that has taken a hit. As officials think of ways to revive the rural economy, sources in the government said MGNREGA jobs will not absorb the entire migrant population.
On reaching home districts, the labourers were screened again. Most of them were sent to home quarantine and others to institutional quarantine.