Migrant workers put out of work by the Covid-19 pandemic board a truck on the outskirts of Hyderabad to return to their hometowns in May 2020. Photo: AFP

When the Indian government announced a lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, it was migrant workers who bore the brunt. Their employers abandoned them, their landlords told them to vacate their dwellings and their labor contractors vanished.

Penniless and dependant on charitable organizations, these workers walked, cycled and hitchhiked to reach their homes and villages in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand states, hundreds of kilometers away from their workplaces in the metros and big cities.

The federal government and their home states have since come up with various employment schemes to rehabilitate them, but many of them prefer to go back to their old workplaces as factories and farms have resumed operating after a two-month lockdown.

Mail and express trains to destination such as Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Secundrabad and Bangalore, from which these workers had left after the lockdown, are running to capacity, Press Trust of India reports.

Nealy eight out of 11 trains to Mumbai, scheduled to arrive between June 26 and 30 have 100% occupancy. Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh has said around 15,000 migrants are returning per day as industries and businesses are being given permission to reopen, Times of India reports.

Many of these workers’s erstwhile employers are now running buses and other vehicles to bring them back to their workplaces.

A Bangalore-based real estate firm flew a group of carpenters on a chartered plane from Patna to Hyderabad. Another real estate company based in Chennai chartered an aircraft to transport 150 skilled workers from Patna. They are also being promised higher wages and some are being paid advances.

Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched a 500 billion-rupee program called Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan to increase employment opportunities in rural areas. The federal government proposes implementing it in 116 districts, each having over 25,000 migrant workers, in the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Jharkhand.

However, despite such welfare measures, many villagers have now decided to go back to their former employers as they are unable to find gainful employment in their native villages and towns and their meager savings have run out.

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