THE LOOMING threat of a lockdown in the state with a daily surge in Covid cases has put migrant workers on the edge with some contemplating plans of returning back to their native places to avoid being caught off guard even though the state government is yet to make any announcement of a lockdown.
After the 21-day national lockdown was announced on March 24 last year, many stranded workers without ration or money had walked thousands of kilometers or hitched overpriced rides to reach home.
Mehboob Ali, a 23-year-old worker in a garment unit in Jari Mari area of the city, said that he has been watching news updates closely. “We know there is no announcement yet but nobody wants to suffer like last year. I spent over Rs 3,000 to go home on a truck at a time when I did not have any means of earning,” he said. On Sunday evening, Ali approached a local shop which doubles as a ticket-booking office but was told that no berth was available on trains to his hometown in Uttar Pradesh till April 8. Last week, he sent his 22-year-old brother, who was working with him, back home on a train but thought he should stay back and earn at least for a few more days in case a lockdown renders both of them jobless again. “I have been seeing many booking tickets to go so I do not want to take a risk waiting back,” said Ali, who returned to the city in August. He said workers in the unit are also being paid less than half of their salaries since the past two months with owners claiming that there is no demand.
In Ghatkopar, Munna Giri, who supervises a group of loaders, said that discussions have begun on the possibility of a lockdown after night curfew was announced last week. “We came back to the city 4-5 months ago after shops began opening. Most of us borrowed money to return home last year and to earn whatever we could had become necessary. We only hope that there will be some arrangement made by the government this time to ensure that workers are allowed to return home. If I am even told two days in advance, I will find my way back than be stranded here,” Giri said.
Deepak Paradkar, senior associate with NGO Aajeevika Bureau, an organisation working with migrant workers, said that he has been receiving at least 10 enquiries a day from workers such as Giri wanting to know if a lockdown will be imposed. “There has been no announcement but workers are concerned that they will be stranded. Many are requesting that they should be given prior information… so that they can make arrangements accordingly,” he said, adding that many have also begun requesting for train tickets.