As States in East send SOS, Centre too says: Help stranded migrants

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According to estimates, about 5,000 migrant workers on their way home are stuck in various towns in Bihar with the lockdown in place.

The Centre Thursday asked all states to ensure food and shelter for thousands of migrant workers who have been left stranded without jobs amid a national lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The Centre stepped in after the chief ministers of West Bengal and Odisha appealed to the rest of the country to assist workers from the two states, Bihar announced relief measures of its own, and Jharkhand set up a team of IAS officers to coordinate its efforts.

"We have asked state governments to arrange food and shelter for migrant workers. We are sensitising everyone that wherever they are, they should remain there," said Punya Salila Srivastava, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs.

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Kerala has already announced a series of measures for migrant workers there, ranging from community kitchens set up by local bodies to hostel buildings hired by the government. According to unofficial estimates, the state provides work to more than 25 lakh migrant workers, mainly from the East.

The labour department in Maharashtra has recommended the transfer of money to the bank accounts of 12 lakh registered labourers, mostly migrant workers, in the construction sector.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Maharashtra Labour Minister Dilip Walse Patil said the proposal is under discussion, and that a collective decision will be taken to cover the entire labour force. "Desperate times need extreme measures," he said.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said his government will set up relief camps in districts for returning workers. Social distancing will be maintained at these camps, which will have teams of doctors, Kumar said, adding that Rs 100 crore has been allocated from the CM's relief fund.

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Bihar has also deputed its Resident Commissioner in Delhi to co-ordinate relief efforts for workers employed in other states.

According to estimates, about 5,000 migrant workers on their way home are stuck in various towns in Bihar with the lockdown in place. "Their relatives are wary of welcoming them due to fears of the virus spreading. Most of them have not been screened, either. The camps will take care of this," said an official.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, meanwhile, wrote letters to 18 chief ministers seeking their help for workers from the state.

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A woman at Howrah railway station breaks down after realising she has missed out on food being distributed to migrant workers. (Photo: Reuters)

"We are getting SOS calls from them. They are generally in groups of 50-100 and can be easily identified by the local administration...kindly ask your administration to provide them basic shelter, food and medical support during the period of crisis. We, in Bengal, are taking care of such people in our state," she wrote.

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In his appeal, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote: "... any person or group of persons stranded in any part of your state may please be assisted with food, accommodation, security." He assured that "Odisha will bear whatever cost is needed".

Jharkhand has formed a team of 15 IAS officers, each of whom has been assigned a different state to resolve the problems of workers stuck there. These officers have been instructed to report back to Principal Secretary (Labour) Rajeev Arun Ekka, who has been appointed as the state's nodal officer for the initiative.

Chief Minister Hemant Soren has also responded to appeals on social media and contacted the chief ministers of Delhi, Chhattisgarh and Odisha to resolve the issues raised.

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Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has asked businesses and traders employing migrant workers to arrange for food and shelter with assistance from the state government and NGOs.

And UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has set up a committee under the Chief Secretary to contact workers from the state employed outside. District Magistrates have been asked to provide relief at the state's borders for workers returning from neighbouring states on foot.