With barely any trains running to Agartala, several migrant workers have borrowed thousands in cash to take costly bus trips back home.

Migrant workers stranded in ChennaiPTI
news Migrant Crisis Friday, June 19, 2020 - 08:01

On the tenth of every month, S Suman used to receive his monthly wages working in Chennai. 

The 29-year-old shifted from his hometown of Tripura to the southern city two years ago. He lives in Tambaram and was making a living as a loading worker hired on contract.

However, Suman’s source of income dried up abruptly in March, when his contractor absconded to his hometown of Bengaluru in Karnataka, leaving all his employees in the lurch.

“On March 10, he asked us to come to the Chrompet bus stop with our ID cards and uniforms, which he collected from us. He then asked us to give him a phone call in the next three days to get our salaries. We did not get our salaries. He did not pick up our calls. Now, we don’t have any proof to show that we were working under him. We are unable to send our families any money,” Suman tells TNM. 

Suman is among 2,500 migrant labourers from Tripura, who have been languishing in Tamil Nadu, without jobs for over four months. 

Many of them who were employed as security personnel, drivers, housekeeping staff at IT companies and as headload workers have either had no jobs post lockdown or have not received their dues since March.

TNM reached out to three groups of workers — two from Chennai and one from Coimbatore — who all say that they have been unable to travel home to Tripura as there are so few trains running between the two states. 

“I am now asking my family to send me money to survive here. Till June, I was paying rent for my room, which I shared with three other men in Sholinganallur. However, when those three left the city, I could not afford the whole rent of Rs 3,000. I then moved to migrant camps where I have now spent 18 days,” Jashimuddin explains to TNM. The 28-year-old from Melaghar in Tripura is a contract labourer who was arranging shuttle services for employees of tech giant Wipro in Chennai. He has not received his wages for the past 55-days.

On June 1, Jashim was first shifted to the Jerusalem College of Engineering in Pallikaranai, which had been converted into a government migrant camp. After 14 days, the college was vacated and the workers were relocated to the Asan Memorial College of Arts and Sciences in Medavakkam, where he now stays. There are over 350 migrant workers from Tripura alone in this camp who are waiting to go home, Jashim says. 

Ragen dre Raeng, 24, too has a similar story. Stuck in Coimbatore since March, Ragen, a tailor hired on contract basis by a firm under the Tamil Nadu Small Industries Corporation Ltd (TANSIDCO), is yet to receive his wages for the months of May and June. 

Along with 31 others from Tripura who work with him, Ragen who is a native of Gomati district, is stuck with no cash in Coimbatore. With garment exports halted and business slackening, the firm has no money to pay their workers, the 24-year-old, who used to earn Rs 2,100 as weekly wages, says. 

With barely any trains running between the two states, several migrant workers have borrowed thousands in cash to take costly bus trips back home. 

“I know 64 workers from Tripura who paid Rs 9,000 each for a bus ride from Chennai to Agartala. I don’t have the money to do this, otherwise I would have gone too,” Ragen laments. 

Others, like Suman and 30 others from his group, are helped by volunteer groups, who paid their rent until June and have been offering them food. “I don’t even know if I want to go home now. How can I go back without any money and expect to survive there? This is the condition the lockdown has left us in,” he says. 

Shramik trains to Tripura

No trains have run from Tamil Nadu to Tripura for at least 15 days as a recent landslide snapped the road-rail link between Guwahati and Agartala, cutting off access to the state, says Deputy Commissioner, Revenue and Finance, Greater Chennai Corporation, J Meghanath Reddy. “Due to this, Tripura officials have been reluctant to take on migrant workers from here,” he adds. 

TNM reached out to Vikash Singh IAS, Additional Secretary of the Government of Tripura, who says that the rail-road link is being repaired and should become operational in the next 3-4 days. The government of Tamil Nadu can then run trains to Tripura, as per the Supreme Court’s directive, which says that the receiving state’s sanction is not mandatory, he adds. 

“There have been incessant rains here for weeks together and as a result, landslides have snapped the rail link. Migrant workers travelling to Tripura would have had to alight at Guwahati in Assam, where the Tripura government would have to arrange bus transportation to bring them to the state and quarantine them. The distance between Guwahati and Agartala is 544 km and is a 15-hour bus journey. The logistics of this would have been a challenging one and hence, we decided to wait until the rail links were repaired. This is not just the case in Tamil Nadu, but for states too,” the Additional Secretary said. 

Prior to the landslide, only two trains carrying migrant workers had run from Chennai to Agartala.

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