Transport facilities for migrant workers in Karnataka seeking to return to their homes in other states was restricted on Tuesday. This, after Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa appealed to migrant workers stranded in the state due to COVID-19 lockdown not to leave for their home towns and instead assured them work, pointing to easing of norms allowing construction and industrial activities in non-red zones.
"I appeal to labourers with folded hands don't pay heed to any rumors, it is the responsibility of the government to see to that you get work at the place you were working... don't take hasty decision of going to your natives. Stay here and work, as in the past," Yediyurappa said on Tuesday.
Sources in the Karnataka government say that there are lakhs of migrant workers in Bengaluru and one train accommodates just 1,200 workers. Therefore, the government will have to arrange trains for a whole month if all workers have to be transported.
Another reason behind the appeal is that the government wants to resume economic activities, especially construction work, and is keen to retain the labour force. There is also within the industry and government that given their experiences in the past few weeks, many of them may choose not to come back after the lockdown is lifted, thereby seriously impacting the workforce.
Karnataka also wants states like Bihar, Jhrkhand and Uttar Pradesh to assure that these workers would be allowed to enter their respective states and will be placed in quarantine.
"Until the states permit, we will not send the workers from here. They should stay in the camps they are staying in and the government will ensure that they will be given ration,â€ť R Ashok, Karnataka Revenue Minister told reporters on Monday night.
On Tuesday, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa held a meeting with members of the stateâ€™s buildersâ€™ association in Bengaluru to discuss the problems faced by migrant workers in the city. The Chief Ministerâ€™s Office confirmed that the builders appealed to the Chief Minister to restrict the travel of migrant workers back to their homes stating that â€śunnecessary travel of migrant workers has to be controlledâ€ť. The builders explained that they had set up colonies for workers with essential facilities and pointed out that construction activities had already begun.
The Chief Minister also plans to reach out to migrant workers with messages in their respective languages. The message reads, "We intend to resume the economic activities soon. Government has already held meetings with representatives of associations of commerce and industries in this regard. Therefore it is my sincere request to all the migrant workers to stay back in the State and cooperate with us to resume the economic activities once we receive directions from Union Government," reads the message.
The Karnataka government facilitated the movement of migrant workers in six trains on May 3 and 4 with around 1200 workers aboard each train.
Migrant workers in a discussion with Bengaluru (West) DCP Ramesh Banoth
Groups of workers from Danapur in Bihar, Jaipur in Rajasthan and Bhubaneshwar in Odisha, were charged full travel fares for their travel home with the workers who left for Danapur in Bihar paying Rs 1050, which is slightly more than the general sleeper ticket price of around Rs 900.
But even after the sixth train departed for Danapur from Kolarâ€™s Malur station on Monday night, hundreds of migrant workers agitated against officials at the Banappa Park in Bengaluru on Monday night. The workers said that they had registered themselves on the Seva Sindhu portal set up by the Karnataka government to facilitate the movement of migrant workers.
â€śIf they arrange the train today, we will go. We are a group of eight workers and we all want to go back home. Since weâ€™ve filled the form, we have not been informed when we will be able to leave,â€ť says Deepak, a migrant worker from Jharkhand who works as a mason in Bengaluruâ€™s Sanjaynagar area.
'We want to go home'
An official in the CMO told TNM that Revenue Minister R Ashok and Education Minister S Suresh Kumar are trying to dissuade migrant workers from returning to their homes.
However, TNM spoke to scores of migrant workers who intend to return to their homes saying that they would prefer to be with their family members until the restrictions put in place over the coronavirus outbreak are lifted completely. Some of them had even expressed their intention to go home and be with their families to Suresh Kumar, when he visited colonies of migrant workers on Saturday.
â€śWe want to return home because we are struggling for food and water hereâ€ť, said a migrant worker from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh who works as a painter in Kolar district of Karnataka. He even said that he walked from Kolar to Bengaluru with a group of 15 people, a distance of 65 km.
â€śWhen we reached Majestic in Bengaluru, we were told to make a list of 1200 people heading to our town and pay ticket prices. We are appealing to the government to please send us home,â€ť the worker said. He added that he had registered himself in the Seva Sindhu portal but he, and thousands of other workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand were asked to leave from Majestic and are currently holed up at the Bengaluru International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) on Tumakuru Road waiting for the state government to make arrangements to go home.
Activists advocating for the welfare of the workers demand that the workers be given free travel to their hometowns if the workers want the same.