Fearing a 2020 repeat, guest workers are heading home as India grapples with second Covid-19 wave

Reports suggest that guest workers in Maharashtra and Delhi are heading back to their native homes as weekend lockdown and night curfews are imposed
Guest workers waiting to board the train back to their hometowns ahead of the weekend lockdown
Guest workers waiting to board the train back to their hometowns ahead of the weekend lockdownTwitter

When the nationwide lockdown was suddenly announced in 2020, several guest workers were forced to head to their homes and native villages on foot, as there was no prior intimation from the Centre. Fast-forward to 2021, reports have emerged that guest labourers are heading to their native village fearing a possible lockdown after the country recorded a huge surge in daily Covid-19 cases. Several states have called for night curfews and weekend lockdown.

Reportedly, several guest workers are seen queuing up at railway stations in Maharashtra to catch a train home as the state will witness a partial lockdown this weekend. The report says that several guest workers approached railway counters to book tickets but they were informed that the trains are fully booked for the next few days. These guest workers have just one day to catch a train or bus home. A railway official hinted that an announcement of running additional trains is possible.

According to sources, guest workers in New Delhi are seen heading back to their native places as a night curfew is already place. Some guest workers pointed out that the announcement of a lockdown in the capital is highly likely with a second wave. However, the central government has made no such hints at a second nationwide lockdown.

Most of these guest workers are from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. Unlike 2020, guest workers are already taking precautions and are preparing for the “inevitable” lockdown.

Guest workers waiting to board the train back to their hometowns ahead of the weekend lockdown
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In 2020, the central government came under severe criticism for calling a sudden lockdown without giving any prior intimation to the public, especially guest workers. As there was no information and just a few trains running, many guest workers were forced to walk miles from cities to their native places. Several human rights agencies reported that many such workers lost their lives while travelling home by foot. The guest workers’ crisis was also an election issue in the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections.

Some reports pointed out that the Centre’s poorly planned 2020 Covid-19 lockdown severely impacted nearly four crore guest workers. These migrant labourers faced several problems during the Covid-19 lockdown. One of the major problems was the unavailability of transportation back to their native village. However, following severe criticism, the Centre announced special trains for guest workers. The problems did not stop there. Even if guest workers reached their villages, they were barred from entry as village heads feared that these workers could transmit Covid-19, if any of them had it in the first place.

The Maharashtra and Delhi state governments seem to have learnt from the Centre’s mistake and made the curfew announcement beforehand. Even Madhya Pradesh, which is seeing a rise in cases, announced today that the state is imposing a weekend lockdown.

“In the wake of Covid-19 situation, there will be a lockdown from 6 pm on Friday to 6 am on Monday in all urban areas of Madhya Pradesh. Appropriate action will be taken in cities where cases have increased after the crisis management group's meeting. We are making containment areas in big cities,” Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced today. Meanwhile, Odisha has appointed senior IAS officers to help guest workers returning home. Thousands of guest workers belonging to Odisha are on the way back to the state.

Meanwhile, India has set an unwanted record as it reported 126,789 positive Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours. The country also reported 685 deaths and 59,258 recoveries. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to chair a meeting with the Chief Minister of all states to take stock of the Covid-19 situation in the country.

The NationWide