Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have managed to send buses to bring back migrant workers stranded in Odisha. However, migrant labourers from Bihar still wait for the government of their home state to do the same for them.
Migrants, most of them without even footwear to their name, have already walked for nearly 1,300 kilometres to return to their native homes. They are yet to cover the remaining distance of 900 kilometres to reach Bihar’s Nalanda district.
India Today’s team spotted a group of migrant workers on the Chennai-Kolkata highway, not more than 20 kilometres from Bhubaneswar city. These individuals began their journey from Joshinagar area of Chennai in Tamil Nadu and are headed to Bihar’s Nalanda on foot. We covered a distance of 1,300 kilometres on foot in six days, one of the migrants said.
A police team caught up with the migrant workers on the highway soon after and urged them to wait for a bus to pick them up. “We had been stranded in Chennai for more than a month. We were hopeful after every phase of the lockdown that we will be able to return home by train or bus when the lockdown ends and normalcy returns,” a labourer told India Today.
Policeman asking migrant workers from Bihar to wait for bus in Odisha (Photo Credits: Md Suffian)
Another added that those in the group exhausted all their savings between March and April. It was only after the commencement of lockdown 3.0 that they decided to embark on their journey home on foot. They were given food at various stops in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana but claim that Odisha administration did not provide them anything to eat or drink and they had been walking barefoot on an empty stomach for the past two days at the time of this conversation.
Police heckled us at Andhra-Odisha border, said one of the migrants.
This is contrary to the Odisha government’s claim that it has been feeding 3,37,820 destitute people across 5,326 Gram Panchayats along with 39,858 people with the help of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Even as the workers were sharing their ordeal with India Today, some locals on a motorcycle handed them each a packet of biscuits. The migrants had only one bottle of water left among the 15 of them.
As they waited for a bus as promised by the police, India Today’s team decided to test the policeman’s claim. More than forty-five minutes passed and the migrants waited for a bus that never arrived. It turned out that the policeman gave the migrants false hopes after spotting media persons at the spot.
Migrant workers from Bihar wait for bus in Odisha (Photo Credits: Md Suffian)
Soon after, a PCR van returned and took the lot of migrant labourers to a nearby camp set up by the Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC). Cuttack Police DCP Akhileswar Singh told India Today that the labourers have been taken to a nearby L&T Camp created recently for migrant workers travelling by foot on the highway. They have put there until a bus can be arranged to facilitate their return.
“When we find migrant workers trying to make their way back to their states, we transport them to shelter homes cum quarantine centres near Gopalpur. We make arrange for their food and stay. Every state has its own SOP for return of migrants and the concerned nodal officer in Odisha is in touch with his/her respective counterparts,” CMC Commissioner Ananya Das (IAS) said to India Today.
The Municipal Commissioner added, “The kind of response from different states is also different. When Jharkhand has sent two busses, Chhattisgarh has paid for a few buses and some people from West Bengal went on their own based on the understanding of the government.”
However, the Bihar government is yet to respond to queries with an SOP. Commissioner Das said, “We have not received anything particular input from Bihar government and as a result, a few other migrants from Bihar are stranded in the same camp.”
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