Updated: April 21, 2021 2:47:40 pm
With India reporting a record-breaking surge in coronavirus cases, the country is witnessing yet another nationwide migrant exodus, as states begin imposing curfews and lockdowns to contain the spread of the deadly infection. In scenes reminiscent of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India, thousands of workers are leaving for their hometowns and villages, fearing that they will lose their housing and livelihood if they remain in big cities.
During a nationwide address on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged state governments to convince labourers not to leave for their hometowns, while assuring them that they will not be stripped of their livelihood. “If we all follow COVID-19 protocols, there’ll be no need to impose lockdowns,” PM Modi said.
But despite the Prime Minister’s efforts to allay fears of an imminent lockdown, migrant workers continue to flee cities and towns across the country.
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Amidst a debilitating surge in coronavirus cases in the National Capital, thousands of migrants are rushing to bus depots and railway stations in search of a way out of the city. Many are pointing fingers at the government, accusing Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of not doing enough to protect their livelihood.
“How will we survive here if there’s a longer lockdown,” said Pinki, who works as a labourer at a printing press in Delhi. “Every time I see an election poster, I feel cheated. Nobody has helped us.”
Taking cues from the previous mass migrant movement during the last lockdown, the Special Branch of the Delhi Police has asked all 15 district police officials to counsel migrant workers and send them back to their homes or shelters if they are found roaming around without “authorisation”.
Predicting an increase in traffic at major inter-state bus terminals and railway stations owing to rumours about a lockdown, The Special Branch has also directed district police to intensify patrolling at night.
Meanwhile, an overcrowded bus ferrying labourers from Delhi to Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh overturned at Jhorasi ghati in Gwalior district, killing three people in the process.
Anil Singh Bhadoria, Station House Officer from Bhilow police station, said the accident took place at a steep turn, which then has a downward gradient, making it difficult for drivers to control their vehicles.
Free lunches, accommodation, face masks and sanitisers — these are some of the measures rice mill owners in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are promising to dissuade their workers from leaving this time amid fears of another lockdown due to the mounting Covid cases.
The Telangana government has imposed a 9 pm to 5 am night curfew from April 20 to May 1. This has added to the growing anxiety among the migrant workers, who believe this could be a prelude to a total lockdown across the state
In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, which has around 3,000 rice mills, owners are providing free rice and vegetables to their workers in an attempt to lure them away from leaving.
Soon after the traders association announced a 10-day voluntary lockdown in the Valsad district, a huge rush of migrant workers was seen at Vapi railway station throughout Tuesday.
As the news of the voluntary lockdown spread through social media, migrant workers employed in the factories of Vapi Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) and Sarigam GIDC started leaving the city fearing larger restrictions were imminent. Many said they feared the lockdown might spell a loss of livelihood for migrant labourers like last year despite the industrial units in the GIDC estates remaining operational.
In Uttar Pradesh, where weekend curfew will be imposed in districts with over 2,000 active Covid cases, the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath-led government has directed officials of districts bordering other states to exercise special caution and make arrangements for migrant workers returning from Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Delhi.
The Home Department and the Transport Department should coordinate and act, he said and directed officials to ensure treatment and testing of the people returning from other states.
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