Migrants workers depart as lockdown returns in TN

Labourers in many districts camp near railway stations in wait for trains to northern States; they plan to return to TN after lockdown
Workers waiting at Tiruchy railway station to board Tuesday’s Howrah Express | MK Ashok Kumar
Workers waiting at Tiruchy railway station to board Tuesday’s Howrah Express | MK Ashok Kumar

TIRUCHY/CHENNAI: Many workers in Tiruchy and nearby districts were seen camping near the railway station since Sunday night to board Tuesday’s Howrah Express. Most of them from Bihar and West Bengal are, however, planning to return to Tamil Nadu after the lockdown is lifted.

“I work as a construction worker in Dindigul. Since the government has announced the lockdown, I decided to return to my hometown. So, I reached Tiruchy on Sunday night in a bus. Though our train is on Tuesday, the suspension of public transportation compelled us to reach early. Since the canteen and other hotels near the railway station are functioning even during the lockdown, we didn’t face much issues. Most of us are planning to return after the lockdown,” said Sachidananda Singh (45), a migrant worker from Bihar.

Despite the fear of getting infected during the journey, they said that they have no other option. “If we stay in Tamil Nadu during the lockdown, we would struggle to make both ends meet as most of us don’t have much savings. Therefore, my husband and I decided to go to our home State of West Bengal,” said Archana, who is travelling with her three-year-old child.

When asked about the exodus, Tiruchy Collector S Divyadharshini said, “The construction and the continuous process industries are allowed to operate. So there won’t be a lack of jobs for migrants and they need not take trains. Anyway, I will look into the issue.”

Exodus sadly all too familiar

Things are not very different in the industrial hub of Tiruppur as well. Even though export units are exempted from the lockdown, workers employed at these units have started to leave for their hometowns. A large number of labourers have been departing from the railway station even as employers have offered food and salary to them during the lockdown.

Abhishek, a 23-year-old garment unit worker from Bihar, recalled that he returned to his native after two months of desperate struggle during the first wave as his employer refused to pay his salary. “I came back to Tiruppur only a few months ago after an agency offered work at another company. But, we were shocked to hear the lockdown announcement. Although my new employer promised to offer food during the lockdown, we have decided to return.”

Speaking to Express, Tiruppur Exporters Association Treasurer, P Mohan, said a few work units may have closed although all export and allied units are exempted from the lockdown. “Migrants working in these units may have left for their States out for fear,” he added.

Meanwhile, two buses carrying migrant labourers to Bihar were detained in Kangeyam on Sunday evening for not having the required permit. Motor Vehicle Inspector G Sathyamoorthy said the workers had paid over Rs 1 lakh to hire each of the buses. “Investigation revealed that the bus owner had charged Rs 3,500 per person, promising to drop them in Bihar and other places,” he said. One of the buses belongs to a Krishnagiri resident, while another belongs to a person from Andhra Pradesh.

Crowds at Chennai Central

Up in the north, people did not expect much of a rush or chaos as the lockdown announcement had come two days in advance. However, huge crowds had thronged Chennai Central and Egmore railway stations early in the morning in fear as over 2,300 workers had come in to board trains to their natives. To tackle the situation, the city corporation had called for the same team of volunteers who worked on transporting migrant workers last year.

“We were a team of 10 independent volunteers and about four NGOs. First, we had to segregate workers on the basis of reserved and unreserved passengers. Some had tickets for a later day, some had one ticket for a group of eight to ten people and some fled the scene immediately after the co-ordination began,” said Hari Krishnan, volunteer co-ordinator. However, the gathering was nothing compared to the exodus last year.

“Since the circumstance was unforeseen, we called different NGOs and gathered food in small amounts and distributed. Arrangements have been made for tomorrow,” said one of the volunteers. However, unlike last year, RT-PCR tests or quarantine rules have not been imposed yet.

(With inputs from Tiruppur)

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