Sending migrants back home a herculean task for Kerala amid COVID-19

Going by the frequency of trains, it would take around 2 months to send the migrants housed in relief camps alone to their home states 

Published: 04th May 2020 12:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th May 2020 06:48 AM   |  A+A-

Ever since the commencement of Shramik trains many migrant families have started moving to their home state. A child look upon while his family members are making last-minute preparations at the Ernakulam Junction railway station on Sunday. (Photo | A San

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala has responded to the Centre’s call to facilitate the return of migrant labourers to their home states.

So far, 11 trains carrying around 12,000 migrant workers have left Kerala for states such as Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha. 

However, considering a large number of the migrant population in the state and the current frequency of trains, it would be a herculean task for the state government to send them to their native places.

It would take around two months to send the migrant labourers housed in relief camps alone to their home states. 

Even as the state has been working with various governments to facilitate the return of migrant workers, the state is relying on the number of labourers placed in relief camps to get an approximate count of their population here.

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However, various NGOs that work at the ground level for migrants say that it would take around six months to send the migrants to their home states as per the current frequency of trains. 

If only one train had left for Odisha on May 1, as many as 10 trains conducted services on May 2 and 3 to Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha.

And the state is yet to get NoC from other states. Additional labour commissioner Sreelal K said there were around 4.17 lakh migrant labourers in government relief camps.

“A substantial number of them are expected to return based on the progress in getting clearance from other states for evacuation,” he said. 

The officials hope that around 3.5 lakh people staying in relief camps can be sent back to their home states, for which at least 300-400 trains will be required. With five trains a day, at least two months will be required for the purpose.  

Meanwhile, the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID) and Centre for Development Studies, which work among the migrants, said mainly the footloose labourers are placed in the government relief camps. Apart from them, a much smaller group of workers hired by various contractors are also there in these camps. 

A sizeable population is still scattered across the state and the government agencies have not taken their number into consideration. 

According to labour department officials, around 5.08 lakh migrants have been enrolled in the state under the Aawaz scheme, which is the main database on migrants in the state, and they expect that their actual number would be around 8-10 lakh in Kerala.

Of these, a good number of migrants has left for their home states before the lockdown. So their number would be around less than 5 lakh now, of whom around 3.5 lakh would be going back to their states. 

However, Benoy Peter, executive director, CMID, contradicted the claims of the government agencies.

“If around 5 lakh guest workers have enrolled in the Aawaz scheme, their actual number would be around fivefold. Going ahead with the government stats would lead to unrest in migrant pockets as more labourers will come forward in the coming days seeking steps to send them back,” he said. 

“The state government should take urgent steps to reach out to migrants by publishing official statements in various languages as it is very important for the state economy to keep them in the state,” he said. 


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