COVID-19: Migrant labourers are leaving Gujarat, again

The second COVID-19 wave has marred businesses, migrant workers face dearth of work

By Kaleem Siddiqui
Published: Wednesday 31 March 2021

A spike in the cases of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Gujarat has triggered a déjà-vu: Reverse migration of migrant workers, hundreds of whom left the state two days before the Indian festival Holi on March 29, 2021.

There are over 12,000 active cases of COVID-19 in the state as of March 31, out of which 62 per cent are from Ahmedabad and Surat districts.

Among the major fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent countrywide lockdown in March 2020 was loss of employment for migrant labourers or untimely payments from contractors. With experts predicting of a ‘second COVID-19 wave’, migrant workers have again been placed on the receiving end.

The state government has imposed night curfew to flatten the curve: Malls and cinema halls have been closed, again. Surat’s textile industries have cut down work hours and made weekly holidays mandatory to avoid gathering of people.

Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, however, has denied rumours of a stringent lockdown in the state.

More than 12 buses took the migrant labourers from Surat’s Pandesara to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the last week of March. Several labourers claimed they were charged exorbitant rates by bus owners. When Pandesara Police reached the bus stand, they were told that migrant labourers were returning home not only for Holi but also due to the fear of lockdown.

AP Chaudhary, inspector, Pandesara police station, ensured the staff of textile factories to not panic or believe any lockdown rumors — and asked them to convey the message to migrant workers as well. 

Surat Trade Board’s director, Jaylal Lalvani, said migrant labourers took buses back home to “business crisis”.

“Labourers are not paid well and the pandemic has hit them hard.  The second COVID-19 wave has again marred businesses. There is not much work for them,” he said.

The migrants are being paid Rs 300 for work for which they were earlier paid Rs 400, said Shahid Akbar of non-profit Insaf Foundation.

“Payments are often delayed due to which we fail to pay our labourers on time. They run to other contractors and face same problems there,” said Omprakash Yadav, a contractor.

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