“We have to deliver every day unlike those who are in government jobs” Chandan Paswan, 30, waiting for someone to hire him for a day said. A resident of Dilarpur village in Katihar, Chandan returned from Delhi (in May) by a special train after the national lockdown to fight the coronavirus disease was enforced in late March.
Madho Rishi, 50, of Nakkipur village, came back from Ludhiana by special train . “I am waiting for someone to hire me” he said, looking at this scribe with hope.
“Yes, I can do all kinds of manual work” Yogi Mandal, 55 of Kolasi said, requesting just one chance. “Give me just one chance, I can assure you that I will never disappoint you.”
All three, and many like them are at Katihar’s Mirchaibaribari Chowk also known as Labour Chowk on the Katihar-Purnia Road.
Some walk to the spot; others cycle.
“Our morning starts at 4 am every day and we reach here latest by 7 am covering 25 by cycle for a daylong job” said one of the workers. “Many days we have to return without a job.” Mostly unskilled, the workers charge anything between rs 250 and Rs 400 a day.
There are at least 12 such points in Katihar town areas, but the Mirchaibari labour Chowk is the oldest, and also the most popular. Around 200-300 workers gather here everyday.
“We hardly get work for 10 to 15 days in a month” now, said Anil Oraon, 32, from Modhra village, adding that this is probably because of the ongoing pandemic. He is happy that the state is proving them with free rations though. “We are alive because we get free ration” he said.
As part of the Union government’s relief programme, every migrant worker’s family gets 5 kg free foodgrain per head and maximum of 25 kg per family besides they got Rs 1000 under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana. Besides, government also launched a job programme, Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan for migrants to offer them works under 25 schemes worth Rs 50,000 crore.
The scheme was originally launched for three months and then extended till November.
Gulab Chandra Chouhan, 45, a resident of Para village says free rations can’t help them lead a dignified life. He wants work, but thinks the pandemic, not the government, is to blame.
Md Ibrahim, 50, adds: “Elections can’t solve our problem; what can solve our problem is work.”
Katihar has the maximum number of migrant workers who returned from other regions during the national lockdown.
About 4,00,000 migrant workers returned to the region by trains and other means of transport; many have since returned to the big cities, bused away by contractors over the past few months.
All told, around 2.5 million migrant workers returned to Bihar in the wake of the pandemic.
Naresh Kumar Srivasatava, a political worker and a professor at Purnia University, said that “nobody can rule out the fact that the Central government has done a lot during the pandemic.”
Katihar will go to the polls on November 7.
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