Hundreds of workers from Bihar, who had come to work at the NTR mirchi yard in Guntur and have been stranded since the lockdown began, say that they are unable to go home even after lockdown restrictions have been lifted.
Chhedi Sahani, who came from Bihar’s Samastipur district earlier in January, said that although he and his colleagues have registered to return home at the district collectorate, authorities have not been responding to their queries. “There are around 1,500 of us from Bihar living here. With no work, the conditions are really bad. Many of us have run out of ration. There’s no certainty that we will always find food. On top of this, my landlord has been asking for rent repeatedly even though he knows we don’t have work,” he says.
Chhedi and the others who work at the mirchi yard, which is known to be one of Asia’s largest chili markets, usually arrive from their home towns in Bihar or other states around February. They do ‘hamali work’ (loading and unloading) for about 2-3 months before going back home in April-May. “By this time, we would already have been home even without lockdown. Not only did we not earn any money, but we are having to stay away from our families and farm work longer than usual,” he says.
Some of the workers, who were restless, unable to bear the uncertainty of not knowing whether they would be able to eat their next meal, and unable to stay away from family at such a difficult time, have already left for home on foot. “They were unable to take it anymore and started walking. The rest of us have stayed back and waited this long in the hope that there will be an alternative,” says Radhe Shyam, who is from Darbhanga district in Bihar.
Some of the workers have even lost money trying to arrange private transport, which did not work out because of the lockdown rules. “A private bus operator said he would charge Rs 1,50,000 to take around 45 of us back to Bihar. We paid him an advance of Rs 10,000, but then he said we would have to wait until lockdown rules are relaxed. He kept delaying, and the lockdown kept getting extended. Now, after the rules have been relaxed, he said he can’t take us, and has refused to return our money,” Radhe Shyam says.
The workers say that they’re unable to decide what steps to take, as they are completely dependent on district authorities who have not communicated with them since their registration for travel.
Despite several attempts, TNM was unable to reach the tahsildar who is the official responsible for arranging their transport.
A couple of days ago, hundreds of workers employed for construction work at the All India Institute for Medical Sciences site in Mangalagiri demanded to be sent home, which led to mild tension. The workers, who were from Bihar, Odisha, Assam, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, were stranded at the construction site. Police alleged that the workers had resorted to vandalism out of anger.