Updated: April 19, 2021 7:26:11 am
For Sanjay Choudhary, last year’s events have started repeating themselves – huddling with his friends to hear of rising Covid-19 cases, night curfews and weekend curbs. Fearful of another lockdown, the construction worker and 11 of his associates have returned to Jharkhand after just a few months in Bhopal.
Till March 2020, Choudhary had earned Rs 500 a day at a construction site in Nagpur. However, after the lockdown was announced, he was left with no food and no electricity, and even the contractor who had engaged him went missing. Eventually, he and some others walked, hired vehicles and boarded trains to reach Chhattisgarh, from where a 24-hour bus ride took Choudhary to his home town in Garhwa district.
In December, as Covid-19 cases dropped nationwide, Choudhary and others were offered work in Bhopal. However, a sudden spike in infections alarmed him, and he is back home in Garhwa. “When we saw that cases were rising, we deliberated for a day, and then 12 of us booked a vehicle and came to Garhwa. We did not want more trauma,” he said.
But while he is safely back home, he is worried about making ends meet. “I have earned some money, but kept it for future use,” he said, adding that he has pinned his hope on the 1.5 bighas of land that he owns, along with the little savings he has.
Lack of testing could prove deadly
A lack of testing could prove deadly as migrant travel back to rural areas. Officials admit they have no record of the people returning to the state, while state Finance Minister Rameshwar Oraon as recently as Saturday has emphasised on the need for the government to screen, test and isolate returning migrants to avoid any spike in Covid-19 cases.
In Hyderabad, Ajay Manjhi, who hails from Saraikela district, is still working on, earning Rs 470 per day after he returned for work in December. Last May, after the lockdown, he had boarded a Shramik train and travelled to Ranchi. Later, bus services were arranged to drop him home.
Manjhi is aware that Cocvid-19 cases are on the rise, but since his work is continuing, he is staying put. “I am getting money now and that is important. However, I will take a decision in the next 10 days. If the situation gets worse, I may move back,” he said.
Many labourers from Jharkhand who went back to work to other states are facing the same dilemma – whether to return home or to stay at work and risk getting stuck if another lockdown were to be announced.
PHIA Foundation, which runs a call centre in association with Jharkhand Labour Department, has said that it has received “hundreds of panic-stricken calls daily”. “(Migrant) labourers are inquiring on whether there will be a lockdown again so that they can move back. This time there is no clarity so labourers are also panic-struck,” said Johnson Topno, the state head of the foundation.
Last year, more than 5 lakh labourers returned to Jharkhand after the nationwide lockdown was announced.
This year, however, there are no numbers so far. Transport Secretary K Ravi Kumar said, “It is estimated that more than 2,000 labourers have come back (over the past week). But there is no record as such.”
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