Several hundreds of workers have packed their bags and are leaving from Delhi, Coimbatore, Mumbai, Pune, Surat, Kutch and Ahmedabad back to their villages in West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa as the current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc across the country. The fear of being stranded in the city struggling for food and without pay have driven many of them to bus stands and railway stations in these cities.
This year, unlike last year, transportation is available and none of the migrant workers want to be caught in a situation like last year where they are left without any resources. Their families want them back home. Almost all buses and trains to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand are running to capacity. From the Anand Vihar bust terminal at the Delhi-UP border, there are private buses running almost everyday ferrying people to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Several of them are heading out from the border areas in Delhi because the government has enacted a night curfew and they fear that a full lockdown is imminent. In Maharashtra, though the government has stated explicitly that no lockdown would be imposed, and strict measures would be implemented, several workers feel that their employers may not pay them. In Surat and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, there is fear amongst the workers that they could die and their families back home would not even hear of it. Several of the construction and textile workers in Coimbatore and Tirupur went back because of elections, but they have not returned.
This migration comes amid rising Covid-19 cases across the country. In India, on Friday, April 16, 2.17 lakh cases were recorded in a single day and 1,185 new fatalities. The total number of cases has been recorded at 1,42,91,917 and the death count at 1,74,308. The number of the fatalities reported by the Union Health Ministry is widely disputed as it records the official figures released by states, but these numbers have been proven to be fudged in states such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
Kaliya Singh, a factory worker in Kolhapur in Maharashtra, had arrived at Pune a day before to catch the train to Kharagpur in West Bengal. “There are thirteen other people with me. We are going back because we have no money. The factory has not paid us for the last 10 days. We cannot wait here believing that they will pay us. Last year’s experience has scared us. I don’t know when any of us will be back. Our families don’t want us to return to Maharashtra, but what will we do there also,” said a worried Singh.