‘Long wait for return of migrant workers to Karnataka’ (Return of the Exodus-II)

It has only been a month since migrant workers have been able to go back to their home states in buses and trains. Their return to work in Karnataka would take time as they have to first get over their fear of the coronavirus, an industry representative said on Saturday.

“Though many construction and industry sectors have resumed operations, they are working at 30-40 per cent of capacity for various reasons, including the need to maintain social distancing. They will ramp up production in phases when the guidelines are more relaxed and migrants return to work,” Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDIA) Chairman Suresh Hari told IANS here.

Admitting that thousands of migrant workers were stranded across the southern state, with majority of them in and around Bengaluru for over 40-50 days since the lockdown was suddenly enforced on March 25 and extended for 2 months, Hari said the suspension of bus and train services and prevention of any other transport till May 3 prevented them from going back to their home states, taking a toll of their health and welfare.

“This is the first time in their life the migrants were caught off guard by the sudden lockdown, loss of work or job and absence of any transport to return to their native place, forcing them to stay in relief camps in hot summer or explore other modes of transport to get back home. When buses and trains were arranged to take them to their home states from May 3, they have been rushing back en masse,” said Hari.

While construction activity dips in the summer due to scorching heat, the migrants shift jobs or go back home for a break and return to work by June.

There are two types of migrant workers who come from other states and those from within the state. Those from other states are more skilled and are involved in finish works in building projects like plumbing, wiring, carpentry and fittings while the locals are engaged in labour work at the construction level.

“Though we want the migrant workers to come back to work and have sounded as many through contractors who identify, mobilise and arrange their transport to work place, they will return when normalcy is restored and the fear of virus goes from their minds,” said Hari.

The South Western Railway (SWR) zone ferried a whopping 3.02 lakh migrant workers from Karnataka to their native place in 17 states across the country in 209 Shramik (labourer) special trains till Friday since May 3.

“There are no requests yet from other states to operate special trains for the return of the migrant workers to Karnataka. We are still operating 6-10 Shramik trains daily to different states from Bengaluru, Mysuru, Hubballi and Mangaluru as per the request of the respective state governments,” SWR chief spokesperson E. Vijaya told IANS.

The state-run road transport corporation (KSRTC) also sent around 2 lakh workers for free to their native place across Karnataka and the neighbouring states from cities in the first week of May when intra-state and inter-state movement of vehicles were allowed during the third phase of the lockdown since May 4.

“We hope the railways will resume regular trains from July or operate special trains to enable the migrant workers return to work from their home states when the extended lockdown is lifted after June 30,” a city-based leading builder told IANS.

Of the total migrant workers, about 20-25 per cent of them are engaged in the construction and infrastructure sectors, about 20 per cent in farming, horticulture and floriculture and the remaining are involved in manufacturing and services sectors.

“As farming and agri-based activities resumed after the first phase of 21-day lockdown, migrant workers engaged in the agriculture sector were back to work though their movement was affected due to lack of public or private transport. Migrant workers, skilled and employed in micro, small and medium industries were the worst affected as they did not have work or salary to sustain. They had no choice but return to their native place,” state industry association member K.C. Monocarp said.