The Telangana government pulls a paavam face when it promises to treat migrant workers as "our own biddas", but the workers would rather walk than stay. Workers Deccan Chronicle spoke to had myriad reasons for choosing to walk rather than wait for the train or bus the government promises to take them home.
In the meantime, many of the workers said the food that used to be supplied by the government has now stopped.
At Vanasthalipuram, we found a group of migrant workers walking on the highway. They had started out from Balapur and aim to reach Chhattisgarh. Asked why they weren’t willing to wait for a few more days for the state government to organise a train or bus for them, one of them said, “We registered a few days ago and waited. But we are out of food now and can’t stay here any longer.”
The group had made arrangements with a person who promised them some space in a truck. They have to walk to Choutuppal to meet up with the truck. “It will wait for us till 4 pm. If we don’t catch it, we might have to walk all the way,” the man said.
We had this conversation with the migrant workers at 1 pm. So the group had exactly three hours to cover the 40 km to Choutuppal. Along NH 44, which connects to northern India, we found many bands of workers walking. We found trucks crammed with people as well. The cost of hiring a bus or truck is astronomical. A 50-seater bus to Jharkhand would cost Rs 1.3 lakh to rent; rates have only gone higher in the past week.
Ashok, a man among a group walking to Indore district in Madhya Pradesh, said that even if they waited for a train, it was unlikely they would be dropped near their village. “Our villages are not well connected by train or bus. We don’t want to be stranded in our state a week later. We might as well try and get home now, when the borders are still open,” he said.
This sentiment was echoed by many migrant workers, who seemed to believe their courtesy trains could be pulled anytime. One construction worker from Bihar said he was afraid he would be forced to stay in Hyderabad when building work resumes. “No one is serious about us going home. They want to keep us here for work. But we don’t have any money or food to stay any longer,” he said.
Raju Ojha, president of the Bihar Seva Samaj Sangh, said that since the Central government had allowed the running of trains, almost all food distribution schemes by the state to migrant workers had virtually stopped. “I am in touch with a sizable portion of the Bihari community in Hyderabad. Most of them haven’t received any grain from government sources in the past week. It is almost as if the state government has given up on them. More people will leave on their own in the coming days; it is unavoidable,” he said.