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Bihar Migrant Workers Homecoming – Blessing or Curse

July 21, 2020

Sreejul, a migrant worker from Bihar had returned to his home state in May 2020 after multiple travel attempts for last one month through Shramik train from Surat. Sreejul had come to Surat along with twenty people from his village to work in a textile factory a year back leaving his family at village.

Sreejul’s misery started with the first lockdown announced on 24 March 2020. With the closure of the work, factory owner deserted the workers and conveyed that he would not be able to offer work and salary now within two weeks of the lockdown announcement. Having exhausted his meager savings, Sreejul was not in a position to pay his home rent and basic needs by the time second lockdown got announced in April. With no savings and survival becoming an issue, Sreejul borrowed some money from his family and moved to a shelter home offered by his community. But with announcement of third lockdown and uncertainty for future about work, Sreejul started looking for options to return home. Starting of Shramik trains were a blessing and he was finally able to board a train after multiple attempts. His misery would continue as he would be quarantined for fifteen days once he reaches his village in the school outside village premises. Incase he tests positive for corona, further misery would get added.

Like Sreejul more than five lakh migrants have returned home in Bihar as of May 2020. Some of them who returned have tested positive for Corona. Bihar government and the villagers have got alarmed especially considering the weak healthcare infrastructure. In addition, bigger worry is accommodating them economically and providing jobs as most workers have come back permanently unwilling to go back because of the treatment offered by their owners.

Apart from the double whammy of Bihar government, Factory owners have started to realize that they are not in a position to restart their factories with the easing of restrictions in the fourth lockdown due to lack of workers. Already having suffered losses for last two months due to lockdown they are facing uncertain future with further losses which might wipe them out of the market.

The bigger question is Migrant Worker going home, is it a blessing or curse? Could this have been handled better both by factory owners and government (Central and State)

Only time will tell as future unfolds. But as per current situation, it is a curse both to the migrant workers and their family, major issue for their state governments and factory owners. If the factory owners, along with government support had provided a shelter and food during this lockdown, workers might not have fled to home. The total cost of this support would have been much smaller in comparison to the current cost borne both by workers, factory owners and governments.

Nityanand Jha, Assistant Professor, Unitedworld School of Law (UWSL)

Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.

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