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The Budget connection: ‘Many of my friends returned but I can’t, the whole situation has scared me’

While many of his friends and neighbours returned to the big cities for work as restrictions were relaxed, Baigo Bodra is now scared to stay away from his family.

Written by Abhishek Angad | Chaibasa |
Updated: February 2, 2021 10:37:59 am
covid lockdown, coronavirus lockdown, jharkhand, workers, budget, budget 2021, The budget connection, one nation one ration, indian express newsBaigo Bodra, 22, a bar bender, cycled 1800 km to reach his Jharkhand home amid lockdown

Ever since he cycled from Tumkur in Karnataka to his home in Khuntpani block of Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district during the lockdown, 22-year-old Baigo Bodra has often had a nightmare — he is cycling in an unknown location; there are roads and trees, but no sign of food, shelter or water. The nightmare ends as Bodra wakes up to see the thatched roof over his head and heaves a sigh of relief.

Before the lockdown, he worked as a bar bender at a construction site in Tumkur. He had been working there since he was 14. In eight years, his daily income increased from Rs 164 to Rs 325. His job provided brick tiles on their roof, a second-hand motorbike and enough food for the family of five.

While many of his friends and neighbours returned to the big cities for work as restrictions were relaxed, Bodra is now scared to stay away from his family.

He has been looking for opportunities in his village. He tried cultivating cauliflower in a part of their seven-acre plot, but has run into losses. He now wants to start a cloth business, but fears that he won’t get a loan from the government which, he says, is busy waiving farmers’ loans.

Pointing to the bicycle on which he made the 1,800-km journey home, Bodra says, “I panicked (when the lockdown was announced). My mother took a loan of Rs 15,000 and deposited it in my account. I bought a cycle, packed water bottles, rice and bananas. And set out with others from neighbouring areas. We rode like there was no tomorrow.

Strangers helped us, we ate what was offered and slept on the roadside. My legs gave up, but my spirit did not. For me that bicycle is a symbol of a sort of achievement,” he says.

More than 5 lakh migrants returned to Jharkhand after the lockdown was announced — on bicycles or trucks or foot.

The Jharkhand government announced a relief of Rs 1,000 and a pack of foodgrains with salt, sugar and oil for those who registered themselves. It also promised skill mapping of those who had returned so that they can be offered jobs. But the promises have not translated into action for many like Bodra. The government’s MoU with Border Roads Organisation to send labourers for its projects has been a one-off success. A portal on which labourers were to register themselves when they return so that the government may find them suitable work is yet to be rolled out.

“The government announced many things, but the administration did not even let us sleep in Ranchi and scared us away. On the 16th day, we reached home. I didn’t get money or ration. After a week, I started looking for work, but did not find anything nearby. Many of my friends have returned. I want to, but cannot . The whole situation has scared me,” Bodra says.

He says he has not looked for work under the MGNREGA as payments are delayed.

Bodra says he sent Rs 22,000 for laying brick tiles on their roof a few years ago, but regrets not saving enough for the education of his sisters, studying in Class X and Class XII.

Despite the despair, Bodra is confident. He claims he has done a “market study” for his cloth business plan. “There are a lot of food outlets here, but people have to go far to buy good clothes. I want to fill the gap, provided I get money to set up the business. I need a loan.”

His interest in clothes is not restricted to a business plan. He likes dressing up too. He often sports a borrowed blazer turned inside out — to keep the outside dust-free — wears high boots and keeps a french-cut beard.

Asked if he misses his life in Tumkur, Bodra says he sometimes misses the sight of an aeroplane. “But I don’t want to leave my state. I want to stay with my parents,” he adds.

The Budget Connection

The One Nation One Ration scheme will help migrant workers claim ration from any part in the country. A new portal to be launched will collect details of workers to formulate health, housing, skills and credit schemes for them.

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