The lockdown has seemingly served as a reminder to everyone that there is no better place to be than at home when disasters strike.
For those stranded abroad, the sea-farers and the millions of expatriates who love to be called non-resident Indians; the lockdown has been nothing less than an ordeal.
The network of various Indian associations across the globe has been coordinating between themselves to assure a safe passage to the countrymen and their families left without the means and ways to move from places abroad due to the rigours of the measures adopted internationally to combat COVID-19.
With the first flight carrying stranded Indians from Abu Dhabi landing at Kochi airport in Kerala a couple of days back, there are sufficient reasons to believe that similar repatriation exercises would be carried out by the Indian government to airlift its citizens stranded abroad.
The news that the government intends to operate 64 flights over seven days from May 7 to bring back around 15,000 Indians stranded abroad in various countries is no doubt reassuring for those who have been worrying ceaselessly about their near-and-dear ones ‘marooned’ in distant lands during these trying times.
However, what about those, the less fortunate who have been stranded in different parts of the country as migrant workers!
Arriving from various states in search of their livelihoods, the belief that a stint of work in these regions will help them take care of their families back home better and will also help them save something for the rainy day is responsible for the migrant boom in most of the metro-cities and industrially affluent states.
In this respect, the states of Goa and Kerala have been nothing less charming for the migrants as the gulf has been for the Goans and Keralities alike.
The poor wages in their native lands have forced many to search for greener pastures outside their state’s borders.
Employment in various establishments in the industrial estates in Goa have proved lucrative for many a migrant worker whose ‘success story’ in turn has brought many more from villages in MP, UP, Bihar, Odisha and the Northeast to try and secure gainful employment in the state.
The lockdown has come as a bolt from the blue for them!
The migrant workers want to go back home; in fact they are frantic. Scenes like those enacted in Bandra and Surat pale in comparison to the shocking reports of sixteen migrants in a group of 20 who were killed after a goods-train ran over them while they were sleeping on the tracks near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
The migrants were walking from Jalna to Bhusaval.
According to the police, the migrants were headed to Madhya Pradesh and apparently chose to walk on railway tracks to avoid the highway, where they risked getting stopped. The migrants assumed that trains were not running due to the Coronavirus lockdown and exhausted from walking a long distance, slept off on the tracks.
Sordid enough to have moved the worst of cynics, the unfortunate incident speaks for the desperateness that drives these migrants to take such extreme steps.
Even in Goa, the state government has made all the efforts necessary to ensure that those migrant workers desirous of returning home can do so with the least hassles.
Accordingly, there was a mad rush of migrants queuing up at the designated centers in the state to register their names in a bid to catch the first available train home.
While initially the industry stakeholders brushed aside apprehensions over the migrant-exodus affecting most of the state’s business sectors; reports of thousands of stranded labourers having registered with local authorities to transport them back to their home states has set the industry honchos worrying, and their representative body has now asked the state government to consider counseling them into staying.
Fearing that the unavailability of labourers could adversely the plans of economic revival in the state, the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) has appealed to the state government to make efforts to hold them back from going.
The CM now wants the contractors to impress up on their labourers not to leave Goa! It was as if the administration was absolving itself of all the responsibilities!
Of course, for a state that has come to depend so heavily on them, measures to pre-empt a mass exodus of the migrant labour force will always be welcome.
But how candid has the government’s appreciation for the migrant workers in Goa been!
Inevitably finding themselves at the receiving end of consequences arising out of disastrous situations, natural or otherwise; the government has always been listless in its attempts to provide them relief during such harrowing times.
The ‘lockdown dilemma’ will haunt the migrants for quite a long time.
Ignored and abandoned, many of the migrants had to petition their state governments to help them out of their predicament.
It cannot be denied that the decision of the migrants to return home would affect industries and developmental works in the state as they constitute the maximum workforce.
Lack of income, inability to pay rent to landlords and high prices of essential items have made them all the more adamant about leaving.
Goa government has been very casual about the migrant workers and the woes that afflict them even otherwise. Having learnt a harsh lesson, both the state government and business establishments are waking up to the harsh truth that their indifferent attitude to the plight of the labourers has landed them in a very difficult situation.
The migrant workers are to be taken care of in good times or bad. But more than ever; right now, it is in the state’s interest that they are treated with kid gloves.
The Goa government has already decided to allow factories and industries to employ workers in 12-hour shifts a day and up to sixty hours a week till July end due to the shortage of workers experienced due to the on-going lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Further, as a step towards facilitating the return of workers employed in industrial estates in Goa, the government has cleared the way for movement of stranded workers living in border towns.
No doubt, it will take a lot of persuading to dissuade the migrant workers from returning to their native places. But, it is time we decided to see the possibilities in every situation rather than the problems associated with it.
It is argued that the migrant workers have filled in a vacuum in various sectors that was created due to unavailability of local workers. This in turn has made the presence of migrant workforce a compulsion in most of the industries and businesses in the state.
Why can’t this trend be reversed!
The aversion shown by the locals for blue-collared jobs is indeed baffling!(Published on 18th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 21)