THIRUVANANTHAPURAM The movement of guest labourers (migrant workers) from Kerala to their respective states proves they have not been getting informed opinion about the COVID-19 pandemic. CS Venkiteswaran, former associate professor of Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation (GIFT) feels that the fault lies with the host state, Kerala.
But with no work happening in the construction sector, there is nothing the labourers can do, but return home. The labour department officials vouch that these guest labourers are keen to be with their family members during these difficult times. With trains arranged from the state (Tirur, Kozhikode, Aluva, Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram) since Friday for them to return to their homeland in Jharkhand, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Ranchi, and Dhanbad, more than 12,000 of them have left. In the coming days, more are expected to return to their home states.
Initially, the migrant labourers were apprehensive of getting food when the nationwide lockdown was enforced. When a section of them believed the false rumours on COVID-19, they hit the streets of Payippad near Changanassery fearing essential goods will not be available. Their apprehensions were addressed when the state government set up community kitchens across the state.
Venkiteswaran told TNIE that the urgency among the guest labourers to return home reveals that the state government has failed in its socialisation among the guest labourers where informed opinion has not been reaching them.
“Guest labourers easily get panicky when they receive WhatsApp messages on COVID-19, mostly through non-reliable sources. This is where the state government should step in and alleviate their fears. They mostly work in the construction sector and with small scale and large scale construction sites coming to a standstill, they have run out of jobs forcing them to return to their homeland,” said Venkiteswaran.
The Kerala government decided to start non-stop rail service after the labourers’ home states agreed to quarantine them for 28 days plus additional measures to combat the coronavirus. But S Irudayarajan of Centre for Development Studies (CDS) feels that this is an initial movement which will see the guest labourers making a beeline to their states.
“This is like the first show of a film being released to packed theatres. Some films become blockbusters and others flop. Once they are quarantined at their home state, they will realize that it was better to be in Kerala. Only when the construction industry attains normalcy, they will come back which is expected to take time”, Irudayarajan told The New Indian Express.
According to labour department officials, Ernakulam leads the maximum number of guest labourers followed by Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. As per the labour department statistics, there were six lakh migrant labourers in Kerala when the COVID-19 outbreak happened in March. K Sreelal, additional labour commissioner (enforcement) told TNIE that these statistics was reached after they relied on Google Lens with the labour commissioner and other officials personally visiting the labour camps.
The officials are optimistic of them returning to Kerala eventually when the state resurges after COVID-19 pandemic. “Those guest labourers who have returned to their home states have been keen to see their family members. They were upset that while they have been getting food thrice a day without fail in Kerala, their family members have been facing starvation back home. Some of them told us that it’s better to face starvation together. They are confident that their family got a decent life just because of the hard work they put in Kerala,” said Sreelal.