Updated: April 21, 2021 6:57:00 am
Apprehending a repeat of last year, when thousands of migrant workers left for their home states leading to labour shortage, rice mill owners in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have started taking all possible measures to dissuade their workers from leaving this time amid fears of another lockdown due to the mounting Covid cases.
While the mill owners in Telangana are offering free lunch and separate shed for accommodation as well as face masks and sanitisers, those in Andhra have started providing free rice and vegetables apart from accommodation with fans and air-coolers to their workers.
More than 1.5 lakh migrant workers from Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal among other states are engaged in the 2,200-odd rice mills of Telangana, where their work primarily involves loading and unloading rice bags. During the pandemic last year, thousands of workers left for their home states, affecting work at the rice mills.
“To get them back last year, we paid for their train fares among other things. We don’t want them to go away again now, but they are worried that there might be another lockdown and they would be stranded here,” said Manchu Venkateshwarlu, a rice mill owner of Miryalaguda, and former president of Miryalaguda Rice Millers Association. “I have assured them that they will be taken care of well in case such a situation arises.”
“To remain safe from Covid-19, I have asked them not to venture out of the mill compound. We are providing free lunch at the mill so that they do not go out in the afternoon and we have set up additional sheds for their accommodation. We have also provided sanitisers and masks. In the coming days, if necessary we will provide dry rations too,” he said.
President of Telangana Rice Millers Association, Gampa Nagender, said, “As the Covid-19 situation worsens, they are worried if they would be able to go back to their families, and their discussions are all about Maharashtra and night curfews.”
The Telangana government has imposed 9 pm to 5 am night curfew from April 20 to May 1. This has added to the anxiety among the migrant workers, who believe this could be a prelude to total lockdown. Telangana Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar, however, has assured there won’t be a total lockdown and appealed to the workers not to panic.
Nagendar said the workers have been assured of food and accommodation even if the mill is temporarily closed. “Also, we are getting RT-PCR tests done if anyone has symptoms. If someone tests positive we get them treated,” he said. “But if one batch from any rice mill decides to go back, all of them will follow and we won’t be able to stop them. Our efforts are to prevent panic among the workers.”
In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, which has around 3,000 rice mills, owners are providing free rice and vegetables to their workers.
G Venkateshwar Rao, president of Andhra Pradesh Rice Millers Association, said, “We have told our members to make the workers’ stay as comfortable as possible. The workers have also realised that they will be safe if they stay put at the mills instead of travelling at this time.”
“Most of the rice millers have started providing free rice and vegetables. Sheds and quarters are being provided with fans or air-coolers,’’ Rao said.
Last May, governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh arranged several trains to bring back workers from Bihar and Jharkhand.
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