Kottayam: Hundreds of inter-state migrant labourers took to the streets at Paippad in Kerala's Kottayam district on Sunday defying the nationwide lockdown. They staged a protest demanding travel facilities to go back to their homes.
The labourers, mostly from West Bengal and Assam, gathered at the Paippad town centre around 11:30 am.
They dispersed around 3pm after District Collector P K Sudheeer Babu and District Police Chief G Jaidev assured them that free food and accommodation would be provided during the lockdown period.
Collector told media that it was impossible to send them to their homes during the nation-wide lockdown. “Both the central and state governments asked people to stay put during the lockdown. We cannot allow them to travel. We have already promised them free food and accommodation during the lockdown period,” he said.
The district administration has decided to continue police surveillance at Paippad.
According to rough estimates, around 10,000 migrant labourers live in Paippad gram panchayat.
Meanwhile, Food and Civil Supplies Minister P Thilothaman said district administration has been providing food and accommodation. “I doubt somebody might have instigated the labourers,” he said.
Meanwhile, State Police Chief Loknath Behra has directed all district police chiefs to check the facilities at the accommodation camps of the inter-state migrant labourers. He also asked them to utilise the services of Janamaitri Police (people-friendly police) to provide emergency help for the labourers.
Center wants borders closed
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday in his monthly Mann ki Baat radio address sought the nation's forgiveness for imposing a monumental lockdown on the country, but said "we have to win ... and we will definitely win the battle" against the unprecedented menace of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Centre asked state governments and Union Territory administrations to take effective measures to seal state and district borders to stop movements of migrant workers during lockdown.
The central government on Saturday asked states to utilise state disaster response funds, to which Rs 29,000 crore has been allocated for the next fiscal, for providing food and shelter to migrant workers hit by the lockdown.
Mass exodus of workers
Since the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24 to deal with the coronavirus epidemic, all business and economic activity has come to a virtual standstill, leaving migrant workers with no work. All across the country, there has been a rush of migrant labourers attempting to head back home. Workers from states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, who worked in areas like Mumbai and the national capital, found themselves in the literal deep end of affairs.
Left with no means to earn a living, they were forced to undertake long journeys on foot to their far-flung homes in the absence of any means of transport. Most of them had to walk hundreds of kilometres to reach their hometown; it was only a day back that the Uttar Pradesh government announced that it has arranged 1,000 buses to ferry migrant labourers stranded at the border districts.