Migrant workers in India’s Maharashtra state haver been left confused by new COVID lockdowns and are now not sure if they should stay put or return to their home towns in other states as virus cases surge.
The 21-day national lockdown recently announced on 24 March means scores of migrant workers are now stranded across the country, with many unable to work because of the restrictions.
Covid Situation Worsening in Maharashtra
On Monday, the number of active Covid-19 cases crossed the 100,000 mark in India for the first time. More than half of these cases are reported in Maharashtra where a night-time curfew has been imposed between 8 pm and 7 am. On Monday around 9,857 people tested positive in Mumbai. In total, 462,000 have contracted the virus in the city, with 11,797 deaths registered.
Migrant Workers Speak Up
Sputnik spoke to migrant workers and NGOs to understand their concerns in the present situation.
Krishan Pal, who in a clothes factory in Mumbai’s Jari Mari district, recently left the city on 4 April. Last September, he returned to Mumbai after lockdown curbs were relaxed. "When I learnt that the government has imposed a partial lockdown in the state, I thanked God that I had left on time this time.”
Explaining how lockdown affects his life, he said: “During working hours, people won't come to the shops, plus the state government has announced a lockdown after 8 p.m. and on the weekend."
"Last year, it took me two months to come back. I walked halfway, empty stomach. I don't want to take any chance this time," said Pal, who hails from Uttar Pradesh state’s Etawah District.
"Who knows if COVID cases will keep increasing, the government may announce full lockdown," he added.
Deepak Paradkar, a senior associate with the Mumbai-based NGO Aajeevika Bureau, an organisation working with migrant workers, said he's been receiving at least 50 queries a day from workers regarding the status of train travel and lockdown speculation.
'Still Bearing the Brunt of 2020 Lockdown'
Gopal Das, another daily wage worker who grafts at a roadside eatery as a dishwasher, lives in Kherwadi, a suburb in Mumbai.
"We are still bearing the brunt of the 2020 lockdown. Our eatery’s target customers are drivers, daily workers, or people earning meagre income, used to visit our Dhaba (eatery) for lunch and dinner," he said.
“Last year, when we restarted in mid-August, there were hardly 10 customers coming in a day. Before Covid times, we used to serve between 1,000-1,200 plates per day."
Das, who hails from Bihar state’s Munger District, said, "Since mid-December, things were getting back on track. People started coming to our eatery and we were serving 400-500 plates every day.”
“But the news of lockdown and increasing Covid cases in Mumbai has spread. My boss has asked us to go back to our hometown and shut down the hotel for some time," he added.
Most migrant workers said business and earnings have tanked over the last few months.
Sunil Kumar Aledia, a another Delhi-based social activist who works for the Centre for Holistic Development, said "Most of the workers returning to their home do not have any savings."
Aledia, who organised a community kitchen in Delhi for migrant workers last year, said, "Looking at the situation in Mumbai, we are keeping a tab on Delhi government’s announcement. If needed, we will restart our work (of distributing free meals)."
Meanwhile, as the COVID numbers are increasing in Delhi, according to local media reports the state government is mulling over imposing a night curfew.
Covid Situation in India
The daily COVID-19 cases in India have increased five-fold to over 100,000 from 20,000 in just two weeks. On Tuesday, the country reported 96,982 cases and 446 COVID-related deaths on Monday, according to federal Health and Family Welfare Ministry.