Bengaluru: Desperate to revive economic activity in Bengaluru, the Karnataka government begged migrant laborers to stay and made a ton of promises in the bargain. Now, 10 days after the government's assurance on behalf of the construction lobby, the migrant laborers who decided to stay back have been left in lurch.
Most of them were lodged in schools and marriage halls till they could return to their work sites. But since they have not yet been taken back to their work sites, most of them have been asked to vacate the premises. And the food that was being served to them has been stopped.
About 500 migrant labourers from Bihar and Jharkand were lodged at the S N Kalyana Mantapa, Talaghattapura on the Kanakapura main road. But since their employers have not yet taken them back to the work site, they have been asked to vacate the premises. Some of them have taken shelter under flyovers, some have decided to walk to Hyderabad and go home from there.
The trouble started 10 days ago when the government decided to make arrangements to send back those migrant laborers who wanted to return. After nearly one lakh migrant laborers from north Karnataka, Odisha, Bihar and Rajasthan left Karnataka, it alarmed the state government that it would be difficult to start economic activity without the migrant laborers.
An emergency meeting was called with representatives of various sectors, where it was agreed that the employers would try to persuade them to stay. The government assured that the migrant laborers would be looked after and cancelled the trains that were to take them to their respective states. When there was opposition to this move, government defended itself saying that their respective states were not ready to receive them.
The problem was that migrant workers are handled by contractors. After the lockdown, the contractors had not paid the labourers. Those employed in the construction industry, housekeeping and security agencies depend on contractors for their payments. They were given temporary shelters in hope of contractors taking them back. Those taken back by contractors have returned to their work places and the others have been checked out.
The trouble started for migrant laborers ever since lockdown began. On March 23, Karnataka government announced that the state run Indira Canteens will provide free food to daily wage workers. Within 24 hours of the order, the government went back on its promise to maintain social distancing thereby leaving the migrants in a lurch.
However, on April , the canteens were opened but the government ordered it to be charged saying that they were anyway distributing free rations to workers across the state.
Vievekananda Sharma, a worker from Jharkhand in Bengaluru had not eaten for two days so she could feed her 3 months old daughter. The condition of migrants from outside the state and the non-migrant urban poor at Mahadevapura was so horrendous that several of them wanted the pawn shops to be opened so that they can sell their possessions to get the basic needs for their family. Several such stories are noted in the report of SWAN.
While the migrants have been leaving the state, in plenty of such stories based on the study conducted by Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) stated the second highest number of SOS calls for demand of cash and other help were made by stranded migrants (4,736) in Karnataka.
In one of the instances, SWAN team received three separate calls from Teachers’ Layout in Mysuru. The corporation did not distribute the ration saying that the condition of the stranded was not 'as bad' since the contractor was providing relief.
“Owing to a large group sizes, we referred this to the Mysuru City Corporation. Officials from the corporation checked twice, noted the details and photos of the stranded but did not distribute any rations. SWAN was told by the officials that the issue was taken care of, but in follow-up calls with the stranded, we discovered that rations were in fact not delivered. The contractor, who lived 30 km away from where the workers were stranded, claimed on the other hand that he could not help as he did not have a pass to travel in the city. Upon contacting the property owner, we found that he had initially provided some rations but was no longer able to, because of strict restrictions on travel. He was willing to give money/ration, and agreed to come to Mysuru border from his town. The Corporation has still not taken any concrete positive action,” the report stated.
On Saturday, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagare Palike (BBMP) were deputed to help stranded 11 migrants from Bagalagunte. They were shifted to Government Arts College Boys hostel on Primose road.
With the lockdown being progressed SWAN has been receiving the calls from the non-migrant urban poor who have run out of cash as they were left out of work and wages. The study further quoted that not all non-migrant workers have ration cards. Since several workers were unable to know the ward numbers the BBMP helpline were proven futile to several of them.