SC stays Odisha HC order on migrants; allows them to return

Returning migrants narrate tales of anguish and misery

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Friday 08 May 2020

The Supreme Court on May 8, 2020, stayed the order of the Orissa High Court given a day earlier directing that Odisha migrant workers should test negative for the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) before entering the state.

Odisha’s migrant workers will thus not face any problems in reaching the state now.

The lockdown due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has left around a million   workers from Odisha in the informal sector without jobs and any means of sustenance.

Most work as plumbers, weavers, mechanics, masons, daily wagers and in other jobs in other states.

Many workers have found it difficult to cope with the present situation after the closure of many industries and construction works due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

“As a result, their fate is hanging in the balance during lockdown period,” Umi Daniel, director, Migration and Education at Aide et Action, said.

Tales of anguish

Till May 8, some 46,383 migrant workers had returned to Odisha. Another 0.5 million are expected to arrive over the next few weeks, and the state government has arranged 500,161 quarantine beds in all the 30 districts, Subroto Bagchi, the chief spokesperson of the Odisha government, said.

The returning migrants are bringing tales of anguish and misery with them.

Betrayed by their employers and ignored by governments, Odisha migrant workers returned from their workplaces in West Bengal, Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala and other states.

Many workers left their workplaces penniless and vowed never to return.

Most alleged they were denied wages and food by their employers after the government announced lockdown.  As a result, they had to leave their workplaces.

Many returnees had harrowing tales to tell. Khirod Rout (57), a plumber, cycled 22 days from Surat to reach his village of Ashrambalikuda in Kendrapara district on May 7. He has sworn   never to go back.

“I was working as a plumber in a construction company in Surat since the last ten years. The contractors of the construction company halted all the works due to the lockdown and refused to pay us wages,” he said.

“I along with 40 workers stayed in the half-constructed apartment for ten days. We exhausted most of our money. After that, I started my tedious journey by cycling from Surat to my village, covering around 1,500 kilometres,” he added.

Rout was bitter. “I left Surat with nothing. I came back with only the shirt on my back. Now, I am back to where I had started, in Odisha, jobless and in deep debt. I was earning around Rs 15,000 per month. My future is now at stake,” he rued.

“I will not allow my son to work outside the state,” 84-year-old Amarbar Rout, Khirod’s father said.

Another plumber from Surat, Alok Mallick of Palimi village under Aul block of Kendrapara, also managed to reach his village, covering 1,500 kilometres by cycle on May 4.

“I will not return to Surat as the company betrayed us by not providing wages after the government announced lockdown,” Mallick said.

Bhagiratha Kandi (28) and Samir Bhata (27) of Mathasahi village in Jagatsinghpur district were working as daily wagers in an aluminium factory in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. The factory was shut down due to the lockdown after which, they became jobless.

Both managed to reach their village on May 5. “We walked around 300 kilometres. Luckily, we boarded a truck that dropped us at Cuttack. From Cuttack, we reached our village. I would try to build a life in my village, despite the economic difficulties,” Kandi said.

Meanwhile, 27 people tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 on May 8, taking Odisha’s COVID-19 afflicted numbers to 246. Nineteen out of the 27 people, who have tested positive for COVID-19 are from Ganjam district, five are from Kendrapara and three from Bhadrak.

Of the 246 total cases in the state, 182 are active while 62 patients have recovered. Two patients have died due to COVID-19.

Odisha on May 8, extended the quarantine period up to 28 days including seven-day-long home quarantine.

“We have made all facilities, including food, medical care, toilets and running water, available at quarantine centres,” said Bagchi.

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