KOCHI: Amid the Covid-19 threat, migrant workers’ residential areas are prone to flooding and landslides. Their shelters are mostly dilapidated, reveals a report submitted by the Amicus Curiae before the Kerala High Court. It added that unhygienic surroundings in residential pockets of the migrant workers may trigger epidemics like dengue and cholera. The report also cited that Ernakulam, Kannur and Kasaragod districts have reported high rates of dengue fever during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bengal Colony at Kandanthara in Perumbavoor and the banks of the Bharathapuzha in Pattambi where a large number of migrants are staying are some of the worst- affected areas in the last flood. Advocate Parvathi Sanjay, Amicus Curiae filed the report in the suo motu proceedings with regard to the pathetic condition of migrant workers in labour camps in Kerala.
The report was based on a study by Dr Benoy Peter, executive director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID), a trust devoted to the uplift of migrants in Kerala. The report further stated that, since the monsoon has set in, work opportunities for footloose labourers (not attached to any employer or contractor) have become less and a lot of them are looking forward to going home, with Covid fear adding to their miseries.
“There are also baseless rumours which adversely affect the workers as they are made to believe that Kerala is soon going to face another bout of floods. If they don’t return now, they will not be able to return home in the next few years,” stated the report. Various industries are generally facing a shortage of workers and in their desperate bid to retain available workers, instances of ‘forced detention’ occurred where the employers are not allowing workers to return home. Strategies such as withholding their wages, original identity cards (Aadhaar Card or Voter Identity Card), other belongings or curtailing freedom of movement or using physical violence have been observed.
The report also cited such cases wherein 10 workers from Odisha were detained in Malappuram district by their employer. Another incident happened in Ernakulam district in which four workers from West Bengal were prevented from returning to their home states by withholding their documents and were brutally beaten up when they resisted.
In the absence of proper information about the availability of trains, a lot of workers pay up to Rs 7,000 or Rs 8,000 per person to return to their native places in buses even when free trains are available. The report sought a directive to the state government to consider migrant workers as a vulnerable group for disaster risk reduction interventions especially in the wake of Covid outbreak and also considering the previous disaster. It further sought to take stringent action against any employer who attempts to forcefully retain migrant workers preventing their return home through any means such as retention of their ID cards or wages.