When many States were clamouring for arrangements by the Central government to bring back their migrant labourers, Jharkhand scored a coup of sorts by bringing back home 1,200 labourers stranded in Hyderabad. The State government accomplished this task with the help of its counterpart in Telangana and the Indian Railways.
The special train left Hyderabad’s Lingampalli station at 4 a.m. on May 1 and reached Hatia station in Ranchi at 11 p.m. the same day.
The labourers boarded the train keeping physical distancing norms and they were provided meals during the journey. At Hatia, railway and State government officials received them with flowers and food. After the mandatory screening, they were sent to their villages in sanitised buses.
“We have 7-8 lakh workers stuck in different States. We are planning to bring all of them back,” said Jharkhand’s Finance Minister, Rameshwar Oraon. He said the State government got in touch with the Centre immediately after the lockdown was announced with a request to make arrangements for the workers to return home. “The moment the Central government allowed some movement we were able to start the process,” he said, obviously proud of the fact that despite being an opposition-ruled State, Jharkhand was the first State to persuade the Centre to make this arrangement.
Jharkhand is one of those States, besides Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal, that sees a huge migration of its labour force to other States in the non-harvesting season. As a result, when the lockdown began, lakhs of workers from Jharkhand were stranded in different parts of the country with no work, no income, and no proper place to stay.
“The Jharkhand government was in touch with all the States in which our people were stuck and we tried to ensure that they were taken care of. But, obviously, there were problems, and we kept trying to persuade the Centre to make some arrangements for their movement back home,” said Oraon. He said Chief Minister Hemant Soren had requested the Centre to even consider sending by air workers from Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.
“Our first priority is to get our people back home safely,” Oraon said. Asked whether the arrival of such a large number of people would not increase the chances of coronavirus infection spreading, he said everyone was screened before they boarded the train and after they got down. “If anyone is found with symptoms, we send them for institutional quarantine, testing and treatment,” Oraon said.
The State could focus single-mindedly on getting its people back because it remained free of COVID-19 until March 30 when a Malaysian woman, one of 16 foreign nationals who were found in a mosque in the Hindpirhi area of Ranchi, tested positive for the infection. The foreigners had participated in the Tablighi conference in Delhi. Sporadic cases sprung up all over the State after that, with Hindpirhi remaining a hotspot.
As on May 2, Jharkhand reported 114 COVID cases, with three deaths. The State had one red zone, the capital Ranchi, nine orange zones and 14 green zones. The bulk of the cases, over 80, were reported from Ranchi itself. The State had 33 containment zones, of which 15 were in Ranchi. The low death rate, of 2.8 per cent, indicated how the State had managed the pandemic well.
In fact, strict adherence to lockdown rules greatly contributed to containing the disease in Jharkhand. “Not only in cities, but in remote villages too people can be seen wearing masks and following physical distancing norms. It was heartening to see villagers coming up with innovative masks, like those made of leaves. Entry and exit points in villages are manned by the villagers with great diligence,” Hemant Soren told a TV channel.
Ration for everyone
The State has also managed to stave off hunger. According to Oraon, who is a senior Congress leader (an ally of the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), the State was quick to identify vulnerable sections and provide them free ration for two months. “We divided people into categories: people who had ration cards and those who had applied for cards. All of them were given two months’ ration free. Those who did not have ration cards too were provided ration, and we are expediting the process of getting them temporary ration cards,” he said. People Frontline spoke to in villages over phone vouched for this fact.