Lack of livelihood, running out of money and struggling to make ends meet in their makeshift accommodations, these workers are now dependent on whatever little help comes their way from the government, NGOs, their owners, and locals. According to estimates, about 25,000 workers are stuck in Guntur district alone. Hundreds of workers are also stranded in West Godavari, Prakasam, Kadapa, East Godavari and Visakhapatnam. A majority of these people are involved in construction work, brick kilns, small-scale industries, agricultural and aqua works and other menial work.
Dammi Polayya, a migrant worker stuck in Guntur district, told TOI that he wants to go back to his village. “Things have become so difficult in the last three weeks due to the lockdown and I have no work. We are caught between a rock and a hard place with the lockdown being extended. Today government officials came to our place and provided us with food,” said Polayya.
In March, the Union government ordered several new measures for the containment of Covid-19 in the country. It allowed the states to utilise funds dispensed under the state disaster relief fund (SDRF) to provide temporary accommodation, food, clothing and medical care to the homeless, including migrant labourers, stranded due to the lockdown. Following the same, the state identified thousands of migrant workers and shifted them to government shelters.
Despite this, several people are still restricted to their rented or makeshift accommodations near their workplaces or agricultural fields. The absence of work and food, compounded with no means of transport to their native places has made the situation stressful for the poor workers. They said they are now worried about the well-being of their families as they are unable to send any money home.
It is hence of little surprise that a few of the workers have chosen to walk home. Carrying children on their shoulders, workers walking on national highways have become a common sight in the last three weeks. Even on Wednesday, 22 migrant workers set off to their villages in Jharkhand on foot from their workplace in Gajuwaka. But they were stopped by the police near Kancharapalem and were sent to the shelters.
But the growing impatience among the migrant workers – even those placed in government shelters – can be gauged from the fact that some of them staying at these centres in Anantapur and Krishna districts staged a protest recently. They demanded that officials send them to their homes.
According to a state government official, the shelters have been providing accommodation to nearly 70,000 migrant workers in the state. “The identification of migrant workers, who are suffering due to the lockdown, has been a continuous process and we have been sending them to shelters and providing the best food and accommodation,” said an official.