COVID-19: Is Tamil Nadu staring at another spell of reverse migration?

Scores of workers from northern States were on Monday seen waiting outside Chennai’s Central railway station with heaps of luggage.
Migrant labourers at Central railway station in Chennai on Monday. (Photo | R Satish Babu/EPS)
Migrant labourers at Central railway station in Chennai on Monday. (Photo | R Satish Babu/EPS)

CHENNAI: Fearing a repeat of last year’s distress, associations of people from the Northeast living in the State have called for an urgent consultative meeting on Wednesday.

The agenda is to take stock of the pandemic situation and decide the course of action. With the State government announcing a partial lockdown, migrant workers worry that the agony they faced last year will return.

In what is feared to be the beginning of another spell of reverse migration, scores of workers from northern States were on Monday seen waiting outside Chennai’s Central railway station with heaps of luggage.

Among them was a group of youngsters who work at Thandalam. They had reserved tickets, but reached more than six hours ahead of their scheduled departure to Balasore in Odisha because they didn’t want to take any chances.

Some of the people waiting at the station complained about the lack of tickets and how people are not allowed in without confirmed tickets. With platform tickets costing `50 since mid-March, workers had to think twice to enter the station to squeeze into a general compartment.

A native of Bihar, 26-year-old Preetam (name changed), alleged a railway employee demanded a `500 bribe to let him in the station without a confirmed ticket.

“Despite paying him, I will be fined again by the TTE for not possessing a ticket. I may as well give that money to the TTE and request him to let me stay on the train,” he said.

Julfikar Baig (28), a native of Medinipur municipality in West Bengal, had a different story to tell. An employee at a restaurant in Palakkad, Kerala, he had to come to Chennai to get a train to the eastern State.

“There’s going to be a lockdown. So my employer told me to decide whether I want to leave. I took some money as an advance and left. Last year, everything happened so quickly and we didn’t have time to breathe,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want to risk delaying his trip this year.

RPF officials, on the other hand, said there was nothing unusual about the crowd at the station.

“This is the normal crowd that visits the station every day. Only a partial lockdown has been announced and it’s too early to decide on anything,” an official said, adding that passengers are allowed only through three gates, and there are enough staff to handle a spike in the number of passengers.

However, many porters said they are witnessing a spike in the number of migrants flocking the station.

Northeast India Welfare Association (Chennai) president Wapang Toshi told Express that though he does not think a full lockdown would be imposed, migrant workers are certainly apprehensive, and some have already left.

A businessman who runs a company at the Ambattur Industrial Estate said people migrate depending on what they see in the media, on WhatsApp, and what their peers say.

“They see people returning from other States, the message spreads, and reverse migration happens. If people use their minds, they will stay back,” he said.

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The New Indian Express
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