Thousands can be seen queuing outside Behrampur Railway Station after Shramik Special trains we’re started by the central government.
COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent lockdown and the stopping of economic activity, thousands of migrant workers from major cities of India’s started returning to their native places. Odisha, one of the largest contributors of the migrant workforce, also received a huge influx of workers, who reached the state in the days following the declaration of the lockdown on March 24, 2020, through various hardships some by walking, some by private vehicle and rest by Shramik Special.
Almost months after lakhs of migrant workers returned Odisha, over 1,800 of them started their journey back to their workplaces in Gujarat after Indian Railway decided to run five special trains for them on the very first day.
The state of Gujarat has the second-highest number of Odia migrants. The majority i.e. 45 per cent of them have migrated for work, employment or business purposes.
According to Census 2011, around 1.3 million people from Odisha migrated to different parts of the country for various reasons. Of them, the majority are in Andhra Pradesh (14.6 per cent), followed by Gujarat (13.6 per cent), West Bengal (11 per cent) and Maharashtra (9 per cent).
The proportion of workers under the informal sector, combining self-employment and casual labour, is more than 80 per cent. The agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors were the highest sources of employment across the states. These account for 48.76 per cent in Odisha.
The huge influx of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers into Odisha has occurred due to nationwide lockdown. In this scenario, the possibility of an upward trend in the unemployment rate, as well as loss of livelihoods, became huge. The government planned to engage a sizeable quantum of this workforce in works under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act(MNREGA).
Also, the government planned to engage returnee migrant in self-employment and or in the small and medium industries using the rural economy like food processing, mushroom cultivation, chicken rearing, backyard poultry, goatery, dairy promotion, both inland and saline water fish cultivation, agri-kiosk and value chain of the agriculture sector. SHG was another plan in the chart.
But in spite of so many planning by Odisha government somewhere they didn’t manage to do well in terms of the expectation of the people.
“I have not been able to get any work after I returned to Ganjam four months ago. As Covid-19 cases have come down in Ganjam, I have decided to travel back to Surat. At least I can earn something as the textile mills have started running,” said Jagdish Nayak as reported by Hindustan Times.
Ganjam district, a Covid-19 hotspot till last month, more than 1,400 migrant workers queued up to board the Khurda Road-Ahmedabad express. Wearing masks and maintaining social distance, the migrant workers with their families were screened before they could board the train. Of the 1,800-odd people who boarded the trains, at least 1,651 were headed for Gujarat as they boarded the Khurda Road-Ahmedabad express. Similarly, over 150 boarded the Bhubaneswar-Durg express from different stations across Odisha.
Another migrant worker Shiva Sahu of Kukudakhandi block in Ganjam district too boarded the train to Surat that would reach Gujarat on Monday. “I would never have come back had the mills not closed down. I faced a lot of difficulty after coming back home. I have almost no money left and was waiting to go back. I did not want to take the bus ride as there have been several road accidents,” he said to HT
Railways officials said the rush for the seats in these Sharmik special trains is so much that there are no seats available till September 20. In Khurda Road-Okha weekly special, no tickets are available till September 20 while Bhubaneswar-Ahmedabad weekly express is packed till September 23
“While Puri-Ahmedabad, Puri-Okha and Puri-Gandhidham Express will run from Khordha Road station, the Bhubaneswar-Durg trains will run from Bhubaneswar. The trains will be fully reserved ones. Stoppages of the train will be restricted in view of the suggestions of the state governments,” said Kaushalendra Khadanga, chief PRO, East Coast Railway. The stations from where the passengers would board have been thoroughly sanitised to keep them free from infection.
The special trains started running a couple of days after Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan wrote to Union railways minister Piyush Goyal urging him to resume the Shramik Special Train services from Odisha to other states to facilitate the return of migrant workers to their workplaces.
“There was a mass exodus of migrant workers from states like Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra to Odisha in the wake of Covid-19 lockdown. These workers have highlighted their plights due to the unavailability of livelihood options and difficulty in travelling back to their workplace for re-joining work. Even though some employers are willing to offer bus transport service from Odisha, a long and arduous journey via road is neither feasible nor safe for such long distances due to prevailing monsoon conditions,” Pradhan wrote after 8 migrant workers of Ganjam district were killed on their way to Surat in a bus accident. The bus was carrying about 60 migrant workers from Aska in Ganjam district to Surat.
Since lockdown, more than 9.26 lakh migrant workers of Odisha had returned home after losing their livelihood at their workplaces in Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bengal, Delhi and Haryana. Of these, 3.58 lakh workers came by 256 Shramik Special trains while the rest came by buses, cars, taxis and cycles.
Written By – Shilpa Dey
Image – Google