Several people are walking for miles to reach their hometowns amid lockdown.

With transport shut for COVID-19 lockdown Indian migrant workers begin walking homeImage for representation: PTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Friday, March 27, 2020 - 18:34

"It was hell," says Sheik Hussain, as he narrates what took place on the border of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday night.

Sheik was part of a group of thirty migrant construction workers who were trying to cross the border from Telangana into Andhra Pradesh in two vehicles near Nagarjunasagar, to reach their native place, Ongole.

Hundreds have been stranded at the border between the two states as they received a 'one-time pass' from the Telangana government to travel. But this proved futile as the Andhra Pradesh government has refused to let  people in unless they agree to be lodged in a government quarantine centre for 14 days.

Narrating what happened at Nagarjunasagar, Sheik said that the one-time pass had given them a false hope that they could reach home. “With a lot of difficulty, we took permission from the Kukatpally and Panjagutta police stations by standing in line for hours. If we knew the passes were useless, we would not have gone until the border. There was no food or water and not even enough space for people to sit in the vehicle. We spent around Rs 30,000 to hire a vehicle, just to take beatings at the border,” he tells TNM.

"We got down from the vehicle to walk towards the Andhra Pradesh police to ask if they will let us in, but they started beating us with lathis before we could speak. We returned hopelessly to Hyderabad as we had no choice left," he adds.

Sheik says that he saw hundreds of people at the border, who were trying to get into Andhra Pradesh on foot, bicycle, two-wheelers and four-wheelers. He and his fellow workers are  now back in Hyderabad, with their contractor providing food for them.

"We are not sure whether this lockdown will end in 21 days, as the government claims. If it extends further, we would have preferred being in our native place instead of staying here without any work," he says.

This is the situation of migrant workers across the country, as all work has come to a grinding halt in view of the 21-day nationwide lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Incidents have been reported from Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and many other states, where people are making desperate attempts to reach their homes. While some are venturing out in groups by pooling in money and renting vehicles, others are deciding to undertake the journey on foot.

There were reports of migrant workers of Tamil Nadu who began walking from Kerala, while other workers of the state also began walking from Karnataka to their hometown of Tiruvannamalai.

In a video being circulated widely in Telangana, a person in his mid fifties is walking on the railway track from Warangal with a water bottle in his hand, claiming that he is planning to walk till Mancherial. Other videos showed a family carrying cooked food, planning to walk from Hyderabad to Kodangal.

In another incident, Andol MLA Kranti Kiran also came across some labourers who were walking to reach their native place in Narayankhed, about 130 km from Hyderabad. They were spotted on Thursday morning after starting their journey on Wednesday. He offered them food and water and requested people not to venture out given the grim situation.

A group of daily wage workers belonging to Suryapet district, over 120 km from Hyderabad, also set out on the long walk from the city on Wednesday to their native place.

They were, however, lucky to have been spotted by Telangana Minister KT Rama Rao, who was overseeing the lockdown arrangement near Buddha Bhavan and stopped his convoy. After coming to know of their plight, KTR arranged for a vehicle and instructed authorities to make sure they reach their destination safely.

“All construction activities in the city have come to a standstill. Our village is about 75 km from here (Hyderabad). I know no transportation is available. So we have no option but to walk the distance. That is the only solution," Venkata Ramana, a daily wage construction labourer told PTI.

Venkata Ramana says his future has become uncertain with the lockdown. He, his wife and two children have now decided to walk to their native place in Nalgonda. A builder in Hyderabad, M Devender told TNM that workers are preferring to go to their hometowns despite being promised that food and accommodation would be provided for them.

“At this time of the coronavirus crisis, the workers should be given counseling explaining the risk of going from state to state. They should be given assurance about their well being, only then this will stop. Construction companies and people who hire them should take complete responsibility of the workers,” Mohammad Irfan from Action Aide said.

"It is also very difficult for the migration workers to stay back in the cities when they do not have any work. Government should have thought about the migrant workers as well and should have arranged alternatives for them," A Krishna from the Human Rights Forum said.

On Thursday, Minister for Industry, Information Technology and Municipal Administration KT Rama Rao held a meeting with representatives of the Construction & Builders' Association and reviewed the conditions of migrant labour at construction sites in Hyderabad. In the meeting he asked all the construction and infra companies to take care of the migrant labourers who are working in their sites.

Read: 

To ensure quarantine, Telangana govt collects passports of foreign returnees

Unable to convene Assembly due to COVID-19, Andhra cabinet passes Budget ordinance

Show us some love and support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.