Jyothi’s voice threatened to give away her sadness as she explained her plight during the two months of lockdown. The 35-year-old migrant worker from Andhra Pradesh has been stuck without work in Chennai since March 24. With absolutely no means to survive, all she wishes is to be able to go home to Srikakulam and reunite with her children.
“I have had zero money or work for over two months. Sometimes we get food, sometimes we don’t. We have been living off the kindness of people. Back in my village, my children have been crying for me and I have spent days and nights waiting for somebody to help us get back home,” the 35-year-old migrant worker tells TNM.
Jyothi is part of a group of 80 odd construction labourers, all of whom hail from Srikakulam and its neighbouring villages in Andhra Pradesh. Stuck with zero income or work since the COVID-19 lockdown began, the group of 40 men and 40 women who barely speak any Tamil, are anxious to rejoin their families. But the Andhra police has not allowed them to re-enter.
“The lockdown has hit everyone hard. We used to make 400 Rs and our husbands Rs 600 per day when things were normal. Now we have no money at all. We also don’t know if our families are doing okay back in Andhra and what our children are up to. This makes us scared,” Jyothi adds.
On May 8, with the help of a builder they worked for, Jyothi and her group received exit passes from Tamil Nadu and took mini buses all the way to the Elavur check post near Tada falls in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. But here, the AP police turned them away and the group had to return to Chennai.
“They AP police told us that we need to get entry passes into the state issued by the state government, and that an exit pass from the source state simply does not suffice,” the builder, Ravi Kumar, told TNM.
The 80-member strong group is dejected and back in their one-room huts opposite the Perambur Railway station.
“We have been sitting inside our houses. Although I heard that construction work has been allowed, nobody has called us yet and given us work due to the fear of the virus. We have not paid rent for our houses here. But our landlords have been kind enough to let us live here and not demand rent during these tough times,” says Neelavani, another migrant worker in Jyothi’s group.
On May 10, two days after they travelled all the way to the Chittoor border, Ravi Kumar helped them apply for e-passes into Andhra Pradesh through the AP government website. He says he even received acknowledgement mails from the state, but not the passes.
“It has been six days and we haven’t heard from the Andhra Pradesh government. We don’t know if they will give these people the chance to go home. We are also looking at railway options to see if there are special trains leaving to Andhra,” Ravi added.
According to reports, until recently, the Andhra Pradesh government had not insisted on an AP entry pass for inter-state road travelers.
However, with the Koyambedu market cluster expanding to the border districts of Chittoor and Nellore and many people contracting the virus, checking has been tightened at the Andhra Pradesh- Tamil Nadu border. As on May 10, at least 26 out of 112 cases in Chittoor are vegetable vendors who visited the Koyambedu market recently, according to police officers in AP.
On May 15, cases in Nellore and Chittoor districts increased to 140 and 165 positive cases respectively. Police officials are now exercising extra caution at the border checks in these districts.
"People entering Andhra Pradesh from Tamil Nadu now need to get permission from the Andhra DGP office. E passes are not allowed anymore. They will have to contact the TN DGP office for permission, and they (TN DGP office people) will contact Andhra DGP office for approval." Chittoor Sub-Divisional Police Officer, Subba Rao told TNM.