Panic among migrant workers as fresh COVID-19 lockdown starts in Mumbai

Migrants in Mumbai may be in greater trouble in 2021’s lockdown compared to last year

By Ajeet Mahale
Published: Monday 05 April 2021
Migrants waiting to leave Mumbai. Photo: ANI / Twitter

There is panic among migrant workers in Mumbai after the Maharashtra government announced a fresh lockdown from 8 pm on April 5, 2021 to break the spread of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in the metropolis.

The announcement includes a total lockdown from 8 pm on Fridays to 7 am on Mondays, a night curfew from 8 pm to 7 am, Section 144 during the day, limits on passengers in taxis and rickshaws, closure of markets (except those selling essential goods), malls, cinemas and restaurants and private offices to function from home. The restrictions are to be in force until April 30.

There are differences this time from last year’s complete lockdown. However, migrant workers are not reassured, having borne the brunt in April 2020.

The announcement has brought back horrific memories for Gopal Das, a daily wage naka worker in Kherwadi in Bandra. He and his friends were stuck in a small single room tenement for nearly three months last year after being unable to board the last train that left for Bihar in March.

“I was among the last to leave. Kherwadi was almost empty by then,” he said. Gopal left in late June but returned to the city in late December last year. The going has been hardly easy since then.

“As naka workers, we are routinely harassed by the police who ask us not to crowd. Moreover, transport has become a serious problem as we are not allowed on trains until after 11 am,” he said.

He added that work had not really gone back to pre-pandemic levels and had only begun to pick up over the last few weeks. He feared that work will again become scarce with the fresh set of announcements.

Most migrant workers said business and earnings had been depressed over the last few months with many workers not getting the same volume of work or earnings as before.

“The situation this time around would be far worse than it was last year. Workers who have returned have barely been able to make ends meet and have little or no savings,” Akhilesh Rao, who works with Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Aandolan, a non-profit, told this reporter.

He added that the closure of businesses will lend a brutal blow to workers and while trains and buses were operational, without savings they would not be able to go back to their native villages.

“Back then, workers had been working for a year and had some savings though there were no means to go back. This time around, they may not have any savings to go back,” Rao said.

Rao and others in Ambujwadi ran a community kitchen for nearly seven months for residents, many of whom were migrants. The fresh set of restrictions may necessitate restarting the kitchen, Rao said.

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