'Covid-free' document in hand, Bengal migrants back to jobs in other states

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Thousands of workers in West Bengal’s Murshidabad districts are queuing up at medical centers to get ‘Covid-free certificates’ so that they can return to their workplaces, both within and outside, the state, officials said. So far, about 10,000 of the three lakh workers who had returned have gone back to other states after taking the medical certificates, the officials said.

Murshidabad is among the biggest contributors to the migrant workforce from Bengal. Every day, people in different community blocks of the district can be seen in long queues outside government health centres to procure fitness certificates, a document that is helping them return to the very states they had to return from during the nationwide lockdown.

A senior district health department official, on condition of anonymity, said, “Till Monday, 126 people in Murshidabad had tested positive for Covid-19 and more than 95% are migrant labourers. Had they not returned to their villages the virus might not have spread to remote areas so fast.”

“Now that they have started returning to the states where they worked earlier, the disease is likely to spread as most of the carriers can be asymptomatic,” the health official added.

Dr Utpal Majumdar, Bhagabangola-II community block medical officer of health, said,”Hundreds of migrant labourers are coming to Nashipur hospital to get fitness certificates from us so that they can return and join duty.

“They were in home quarantine for a while. Those who have lived in quarantine for 14-28 days and have no symptoms of Covid-19 are being given certificates. We are collecting swab samples from those who have symptoms.”

Several migrant workers HT talked to said some private companies even sent vehicles to take the workers back. Sixty people from the district’s Suti community block area hired a bus and left for Odisha on Monday.

“I used to be the main mason at a construction site in Kerala and earn around Rs.800 a day. Here I am being offered Rs 200 for the same job. I will leave soon,” said Jafikur Sheikh, a wage labourer from Shamserganj.

Nausad Alam,a resident of Hakimpur village, said: “I used to work at the workshop of a renowned jewellery company in Surat. I lost my job and I was worried about my family. I haven’t got any work here so far. I will leave in a day or two.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state leadership alleged that chief minister Mamata Banerjee wanted to stop the return of the migrants as it would expose the lack of job opportunities in her state.

“These people came home out of fear and under financial duress but they had to face indignity and insult. Mamata Banerjee can neither provide work to them nor keep them in proper quarantine facilities. Many have to spend nights in open fields,” said BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha. The leader also reminded that the chief minister dubbed the special trains ferrying migrants as “Corona express”.

However, the Bengal CM said yesterday that she did not coin the term “Corona Express, but the people did”.

Trinamool Congress (TMC) district leaders claimed that the migration has started again because the pandemic is under control.

The sabhadhipati or head of the TMC-controlled zilla parishad (district council) Mosharaf Hossain said, “More than three lakh people returned home. Some came even from abroad. With the situation slowly normalising they have started returning to their place of work. Many of them have sought our help.”

“Around 10,000 migrant labourers from this district have already left. Many of them took trains while some are hiring buses or private cars,” said Hossain.

“Many of these labourers earn a good amount of money in other states. They were not getting similar jobs here. Many labourers have already returned in vehicles provided by their former employers,” added Hossain.

“I think they came home because they were worried about their families. We have noticed that the queues outside ration shops are getting shorter every day. It means people have started earning,” Hossain said.

Additional district magistrate (general) Siraj Dhaneswar said, “The district administration is trying to provide 100 days of employment to these people under MNREGA schemes. However, we cannot stop anyone from returning to their old place of work.”

Political commentator and former principal of Presidency College (now university) Prof Amal Mukhopadhyay said, “These people went to other states because they were either unemployed or did not get proper wages. The fact that they are going back proves that the magnificent development chief minister Mamata Banerjee talks about is only cosmetic and not substantive. There has been no industrial growth during TMC rule. I am afraid West Bengal is the worst state as far as job opportunities are concerned.”

Speaking to HT from Bolangir in Odisha, Rahaman Miyan, a migrant labourer from Suti, said, “I was working at a construction site here when the lockdown started. The company arranged a bus for us and we could return to our native village on April 16. We returned to the site in a bus the company provided.”

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