Bikash Tudu lives in a remote Baghmundi village in Bengal’s Purulia district and the nearest bus stand is more than 60 kilometres from his dilapidated muddy house made of hay with a palm fronds roof.
Bikash was working as a stonemason with a private real estate firm in Uttar Pradesh. He was doing well to support his family, who stayed back in Baghmundi. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, turned out to be disastrous for him and others who went along with him. As the lockdown forced all work to come to a complete halt, they were forced to return to their home in Purulia.
With no work, life became a challenge for him over the last few months. But recently, he got a call from a Kolkata-based real estate firm for wall plaster work at a multi-storied building in New Town area. Without giving a second thought, Bikash along with his friends decided to move to Kolkata and rushed to Purulia bus stand only to learn that all tickets for long-distance buses to Kolkata were sold out.
Due to social distancing norms, fewer tickets were available and finding a seat became a nightmare for thousands of migrant workers who had returned to their home towns in Bengal after the lockdown.
The Chief Minister Office (CMO) several such complaints and the state government has launched ‘Nishchit Seva’ kiosk so people get their confirmed bus tickets in advance to avoid last minute travel hassles. The job was assigned to Kargil war veteran (retd) Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary, who looks after the TMC social media team.
He along with the officials of South Bengal State Transport Corporation (SBSTC) held meetings and established ‘Long Distance Pre-Booking Ticket Counter’ at 38 different areas in South Bengal.
Speaking to the News18.com, Chaudhary said, “These kiosks will help passengers to book the seats in advance and the management also is aware of the passengers' load. As there is a restriction of total passengers beyond the authorised seat capacity in the bus due to COVID-19 environment, pre-booking of long distance buses is a boon to the passengers. It works akin to the railway reservation package enabling a passenger a confirmed seat in the bus.”
He said the SBSTC intends to extend this facility mainly to rural areas of Junglemahal, East Midnapore, West Midnapore, West Burdwan and East Burdwan districts. Soon, such kiosks will be there across the state for the convenience of people who need to travel due some emergency work or for a new job, he added.
During the pandemic, SBSTC has ferried around 6 lakhs migrant workers from different states to Bengal and to various districts in Bengal. Presently, SBSTC is plying in 357 routes in Bengal with 957 buses and everyday ticket sales is around 85,000 tickets average.
Additional SBSTC is running 300 buses in Kolkata to provide services to city passengers as private operators are not running buses to their optimum level.
Recently, reverse migration of workers and their plight became a bone of contention between the Centre and the Bengal government. While Mamata Banerjee had blamed Centre for their woes, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had accused 'Didi' for not allowing adequate trains to send back Bengali workers to their home state.
Having a significant vote share – migrant workers could be a decisive factor in the upcoming assembly polls in 2021 in Bengal.
As per 2011 Census, Bengal ranks fourth among other states from where people migrate for work and employment. From 2001 to 2011, nearly 5.8 lakh people migrated from Bengal looking for work.
The West Bengal Government has already launched two schemes to help migrant workers and the workers those who are working in unorganised sector. The scheme – ‘Sneher Porosh’ is for migrant labourers and 'Prochesta' is for workers in the unorganised sector. As per the schemes, the beneficiaries will get Rs 1000 as assistance from the state government.
The Bengal government has also introduced 'Samajik Suraksha Yojana' (SSY) in the state budget for the unorganised workers in the construction, transport and other sectors in Bangla. Under the schemes, they will be given various benefits like compensation for accidental death or disability, health facilities, grant for education of children and others.
Under SSY, they are also provided the benefits of a provident fund, encashable on reaching the age of 60 or on death or discontinuation from the scheme, for which the beneficiary deposits Rs 25 per month and the state government deposits Rs 30.
But Banerjee decided to bear the entire funding (Rs 55) for the provident fund and the beneficiaries are no longer required to contribute their Rs 25 per month. So far, all the schemes have benefited nearly 1.50 crore families in the state and Rs 500 crore has already been allocated for this scheme FY 2020-21.