KOCHI: When it comes to travelling between their home states and workplaces in Kerala, migrant workers have to face many difficulties. The migrant labourers, whose number has risen to 31.4 lakh and is expected to near 60 lakh by 2030, depend a lot on the train and other public transport systems to reach their destinations. However, they find train services the cheapest. But the less frequency and also the number of available services have put the migrant workers in a tough spot.
This problem is faced the most by those workers coming in from states like West Bengal, Assam and Bihar. As per the study, ‘In-migration, informal employment and urbanisation in Kerala’, there has been an increase in the arrival of workers from far-off states like West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Bihar by about 20 per cent. However, if the number of trains operating between these states and Kerala is proportionately less.
As of now, only eight trains (excluding the pairing train) operate between Kerala and these states. However, considering the volume of passengers coming from and to these states, the number of services fall short miserably. According to Rosid Ahmed, who works at a vegetable stall at Perumbavoor, getting or booking a train ticket is a herculean task.
“The railways have a way of earning money,” he said. “They would let the waiting list even for the AC two-tier and three-tier coaches to go beyond the stipulated 10 numbers. So in the end, those who had managed to book the tickets and get berths by paying as much as Rs 6,000 end up in a compartment with those who had been on the waiting list,” said Rosid.
“I have experienced such situations many times. When you see your fellow native struggling without a seat on the long journey, you end up sharing your berth with that person,” he added.
According to Ali Mohammed, a migrant worker from Guwahati, every coach is jam-packed. “That is the case at the starting stations in Kerala. Once the border is crossed, the numbers increase further. We don’t want much. All we had been demanding from the railways and the governments both at the Centre and in the state is some space in the trains to sit and travel,” he said.
Even before the pandemic, the situation was bad and once Covid struck, the travel woes turned worse, he added. As per the study, the migrant population is the highest in Ernakulam (6.3 lakh), Thiruvananthapuram (3.4 lakh), Thrissur (2.8 lakh), Kozhikode (2.8 lakh) and Alappuzha (2.4 lakh). “In Perumbavoor itself, there are around six lakh migrant workers,” said Benoy Peter, executive director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development.
He said, “Due to lack of a sufficient number of daily trains to the Northeast, the workers from these states are forced to depend on alternative modes of transport like flights and buses which though are convenient cost much. Not all workers will be able to afford the ticket costs.”
He cited the example of a worker who approached him seeking help to book a flight ticket to his hometown. “The ticket cost for a direct flight to Kolkata came to around Rs 4,000, which was nearly the same as for an AC coach seat in the train. What these workers want is an increase in the number of unreserved coaches in the trains. They don’t understand the concept of special trains. For them, it would have been good if the railways operated more unreserved trains with fewer stops,” said Benoy.
According to him, these workers come to the state to earn money. “They want to save every penny that they can because they have a lot of responsibilities back home. So, when it comes to spending on travelling, they scrimp,” he said. Unlike others, migrant workers don’t have a planned holiday, he added.
“For them, a decision on paying a visit to their hometown happens on the go. So, they will rush to the station and get a ticket, which very often lands them in a congested general compartment. Also, nearly all these migrant workers have no idea of the booking process and end up getting cheated by agents,” said Benoy.