New Delhi: Once bitten (badly), twice shy – embarrassed and forced to walk for miles to reach their villages, Indian migrant workers living in metropolitan cities are taking no chances as new cases of COVID outbreak -19. Return migration to the villages has already started, giving nervousness to businesses and small businesses, which had barely started to resume activity after being hit in the sudden and unforeseen nationwide lockdown announced. by Narendra Modi government in March 2020.
According to a report in The Economic Times: “Companies in the hospitality, retail, consumer and automotive sectors fear that the workforce could migrate back to villages after a sharp rise in new cases of Covid-19 in several cities and subsequent restrictions and lockdowns in a few states. The reverse migration has already started in restaurants and the retail sector in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, which companies say could spill over to other segments. “
The report says that while the manufacturing and construction sector, which are huge employers of migrant labor, has still not been affected, other sectors, such as retail, restaurants, restaurants and hospitality, are already seeing workers returning home after various states. , like Maharashtra, Delhi, etc. announced night curfews and curfews etc.
“Panic has set in among the workers, because last year they were literally on the streets, penniless and jobless, with no way to get home,” said a trader from Janakpuri in Delhi, adding that the soaring cases had left its market once again deserted. “This has added to the panic and if this continues for a while, paying the rent will again be a problem for us,” he adds.
Also read: How a poorly planned lockdown turns into a full-scale disaster
It can be recalled that last year’s sudden announcement of a nationwide lockdown, with just four hours before people returned home, resulted in chaos of epic proportions.
Lakhs of migrant workers across the country were seen on the roads, tracked down by police officers and local residents, as they painfully walked with their families and belongings on their long journey back to Uttar Pradesh, the Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh.
A large majority of these migrants work without any legal protection, in the unorganized sector, and had no social security benefits, no savings, no safety net.
And there was also no financial assistance from the government. Basically, he was left to fend for himself.
This time, the workers seem to be taking no risks.
According to the National Restaurants Association of India, cited by AND , workers in Mumbai and Delhi “are returning to the villages not only because of store closures and strict hours, but also to avoid any inconvenience or restriction on return similar to what they had to face last year. . “
However, the association said businesses had not been affected so far, but overall the corporate sector fears another setback in the form of a labor shortage.
In Lucknow, fear has also started to stalk workers in the construction industry, with many packing their bags and already leaving for their homes.
Following the upsurge in COVID-19 cases in Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata party government, led by Yogi Adityanath, extended the statewide epidemic control law until June 30. this year, closing schools until April 11. These measures left migrant workers. worried about an impending lockdown, as reported NewsClick earlier.
Also read: Fear grips migrant workers in Lucknow over lockdown rumors, many leave for home
A construction worker from Chhattisgarh, Sumendu, recounted Click on Newsclick that a huge number of migrant workers had already left the capital of the UP a few days before Holi and that the others were considering returning to their villages of origin because they feared to be stranded without jobs and without money like the last time .
Hemant, a 45-year-old laborer from Purnia, Bihar, who worked on a construction site in Ayodhya, also confirmed this and said he was returning to his village before things got worse.
While small stores and large industries always maintain a courageous front, the AND quoted an Elara Capital report as saying that “75-80% of the workforce who migrated backwards have returned to their workplaces while the rest are unwilling to return or have been successful in obtain viable work opportunities. As a result, there is already a labor shortage after last year’s lockdown. “
Confirming the labor shortage, a small construction contractor in Delhi said the surge in new cases could prove to be another big setback, as many daily betting workers he recalled from villages had still struggling to pay rent and feed. earnings had not returned to the same level as before. Another set of restrictions could push them back, he fears.
In the midst of it all, the government seems nonchalant and unresponsive to any financial assistance to workers, unlike many other countries. The Modi government’s pandemic or ‘stimulus’ package is more aid to the corporate sector than to the working poor.
At a time when the unemployment rate is already at its lowest for four decades and despite the almost unanimous demand from opposition parties, economists, unions and civil society groups for a cash transfer of Rs 7,000 per household and monthly to all non-income tax-paying households, the government has looked away.
Also read: Why Modi Govt looked the other way for cash relief during the pandemic
This time around, while better-off companies say they’re prepared and only expect problems in last mile delivery so far, fearful workers also seem better prepared – they’re taking no chances. Many of them are already packing their bags, but perhaps see a bleak future in the comfort of their homes and families in rural India.