Nazma, 22, is into her eighth month of pregnancy. She wants to head home before she is unable to travel long distance without much discomfort. “Our local doctor is asking us to go back to our village so she would be able to deliver the baby in peace,” said Rahim Hussain Kumbhar, 30, her brother-in-law. “The hospitals in Mumbai are overburdened. We also fear the exposure to coronavirus in government hospitals.”
But the family residing in Mumbra is not able to get back to Kutch in Gujarat. They submitted their details in the first week of May in order to get back home, but not much has happened since. “We are surviving on the ration kit a local NGO provided us,” said Rahim. “We want to go home so she is looked after once the baby is born. My parents are also eager to see us.”
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown with a four-hour notice, which came into effect on midnight of 25 March, countless migrant workers across the country found themselves in a quagmire away from home.
On 29 April, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued an order that allowed the movement of migrant labourers, following which the states started making its preparations.
In Maharashtra, the migrant workers are supposed to collect a form from the local police station, fill it up with their details and destination state. Once they submit their details, they are supposed to wait for the call from the police station.
The success of transporting migrant workers from one state to another depends on the coordination between two concerned states. As of 15 May, 173 shramik trains have left from Maharashtra to different states across India ferrying the workers home.
However, the lack of communication between Maharashtra and Gujarat has left about 5,000 workers belonging to Kutch in a bit of a limbo.
Lakshman Patel, a social activist based in Navi Mumbai, said he helped the government of Maharashtra put together a list of Gujarati workers wanting to go home. “The workers are scattered across Mumbai,” he said. “We reached out to them, got their details, Aadhaar card numbers and made the list ready by 5 May. We had received calls from over 5,000 hopeful workers. But the Gujarat government is reluctant to take their people in.”
Responding to the charge, G Dhananjay, senior IAS officer in the government of Gujarat, said that Maharashtra government sent the list of passengers only on 16 May. “In principle, they reached out to us about 3-4 days back,” he told Firstpost. “We asked for the names of the passengers and their final destinations. Because the local district administration should know what the final destination is so it can accordingly provision for buses. We have conveyed our acceptance. There seems to be an issue in Mumbai. But based on the availability of coaches, Maharashtra should be able to send the train in the next 3-4 days to Samakhiali in Kutch.”
But the Revenue Minister of Maharashtra, Balasaheb Thorat, had tweeted on 8 May that the Gujarat government is “not accepting” its workers. “The question of migrant workers is getting serious,” he tweeted. “Congress party is ready to pay for the fare of workers stuck in Maharashtra. Yet, it is sad that Gujarat government does not want to accept its own workers. Their government has still not approved the travel of 1200 workers from Mumbai to Samakhiali. Besides, Orissa, West Bengal and Karnataka are also not allowing their workers to come back.”
Sources in Maharashtra government said that they have been following up with Gujarat for the past 10 days. “They delayed the matter citing problems in the workers’ addresses,” said a government source, requesting anonymity.
But Lakshman said he had attached the Aadhaar cards of the workers in the list so there was no scope for confusion.
Until the midnight of 15 May, 396 trains carrying 5.42 lakh workers from Gujarat had left for different states, according to Ashwani Kumar, secretary to the chief minister of Gujarat. However, the number of trains it had received by the same date was none. The state government of Gujarat, though, has brought back hundreds of passengers from abroad via multiple flights.
The source said Maharashtra government has a requirement of four trains, which need to be sent to Kutch, but the Gujarat government took a long time just to approve the passage of one train, prolonging the wait for many of the workers.
Lakshman said it has put him in a difficult position. “When I reached out to the workers, it raised their hopes,” he said. “Now they are cursing me.”
Most of the Gujarati workers in Mumbai work at garment shops, kirana stores, or stationery shops, earning Rs 10-12 thousand a month. They have not made a rupee since the lockdown on 25 March.
Rahim, who works at a stationery store, said that workers that are relatively better off booked private buses and left. “We are dependent on charity for ration,” he said. “From where will I pay Rs 5,000 for a seat on the bus? My rent is Rs 5,000. The landlord has not asked for it yet because I had paid Rs 25,000 deposit when I rented the room. That covers for five months of rent. It has been two months now. Three more months later, he would be at my doorstep asking for money.”
Even worse off than Rahim is Rajesh Patel, 38, a construction worker, stuck at a construction site in Ulwe. “Our employer made arrangement for our food until 3 May,” he said. “But he drove back home after that. We are now struggling to get two meals a day. We are 25 of us stuck here.”
With cases of coronavirus rising in Mumbai, Rajesh said his family back home in Rapar village of Kutch is worried.
“They are asking me when we would be able to get back home,” he said. “We have faith in Modi. But what about his chief ministers? The Gujarat state government is sending workers out, not allowing us in. When workers in Mumbai belonging to other states are getting on the train, why can’t we? If we don’t get on a train anytime soon, we would also have to walk back home.”
Updated Date: May 19, 2020 11:43:56 IST