Jharkhand

Flying high

Print edition : June 19, 2020

Migrants leaving the Birsa Munda Airport in Ranchi on May 30 after they arrived from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands on a special flight arranged by the State government. Photo: PTI

A migrant labourer at the Birsa Munda Airport in Ranchi on May 28 with her children after they arrived from Mumbai on a special flight arranged by the State. Photo: PTI

Chief Minister Hemant Soren inspecting food to be provided to the migrants arriving from Leh on a special flight, at the Birsa Munda Airport on May 29. Photo: PTI

Jharkhand has managed to keep the infection in check and handled the migrants issue maturely by even airlifting them home, and it accomplished all this despite being ignored by the Centre by all accounts.

Jharkhand was the first State to organise the return of its migrant labourers by train when the Shramik Special trains started running on May 1. It has another first to its credit: It has become the first State in India to airlift its migrant labourers on commercial and chartered flights. On May 29, the Jharkhand government facilitated the movement of 60 migrant labourers who had been stuck in the Batalik-Kargil sector in Leh-Ladakh since the lockdown began. These workers were engaged in road construction work being undertaken by the Border Roads Organisation.

The government also airlifted 320 migrant labourers from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands on May 30 and 31 on two chartered flights. “We were pained to see the plight of our people in other States. The way they were kicked out of their jobs and rented houses, denied a dignified living condition in States where they were based and forced to either walk back home or travel like cattle in Shramik Special trains. Then, we decided that we would bring our people back with dignity and care,” said Vinod Pandey, a close aide of Chief Minister Hemant Soren and also the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s general secretary and spokesman.

Jharkhand has been handling the corona crisis quietly, without making too much noise about the initiatives it is taking either to control the pandemic or deal with the consequent human tragedy. But the low figure of corona positive cases and the almost negligible number of deaths here make it amply clear that the State is doing something right. This is even more remarkable given the fact that over seven lakh migrants arrived in the State in May, some of them from States such as Delhi, Maharashtra and Gujarat that have seen an exponential increase in the number of infections.

On May 31, Jharkhand had a total number of 593 cases only, and this was despite the fact that it registered a single day’s biggest increase on that day, 72. Out of this total number, 216 patients have recovered. The State has so far reported only five deaths.

According to senior government officials, this has been possible because of timely testing and quarantining of migrants and a well-placed monitoring mechanism in place for the collection of samples, treatment and rehabilitation. The State has so far tested 59,452 samples, of which 522 were found to be positive.

For Jharkhand, the bigger worry is the resource crunch, not the coronavirus. “If only the Centre had released even our own share of funds, we would have managed it well. More than Rs.14,000 crore of our GST [goods and services tax] share is still pending with the Centre, besides other pending dues worth thousands of crores. We have written many letters to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, but there has been no response,” said Pandey. Hemant Soren, who is slightly more reticent than Pandey, wondered why the Centre had adopted such an apathetic attitude towards the State. “It is beyond me why the Centre is paying no heed to our pleas,” he said.

Hemant Soren has been quoted in an interview as saying that he had been trying to contact Union Home Minister Amit Shah for three days but had not succeeded. “This was to request him to intervene because many of our people, including young girls and women, have been forcibly detained in other States. In Tamil Nadu, for example, 150 girls and women have been forcibly detained by their employers. I have been trying to talk to Amit Shah for three days, but there is no response from him,” he said in an interview that was published recently on a news website.

He rued the fact that even in such tragic times the Centre was busy following its political agenda. “Politics nahi hoti to samasya hi nahi hoti [Had there been no politics, there would not have been any problem],” he has been quoted as saying.

Pandey, however, is more blunt and straightforward in attacking the Centre’s stepmotherly treatment towards non-Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled States. “The Centre has totally abdicated its responsibilities. Tell me, what has the Centre done to control the pandemic? It imposed the lockdown in such a way that now the infection is about to cross two lakh cases. This exponential increase in the number of infections is a direct result of the Centre’s short-sighted policies. And adding salt to injury is the fact that it is taking money from all of us as donation, but it is helping the affected people by giving loans! It has also made the pandemic an excuse to strip labourers of whatever protection they enjoyed earlier by amending the labour laws. It is selling out our national resources in the name of fighting the infection,” he said. Citing the privatisation of coal mines, he said it was difficult to understand how this would help in fighting the virus. “This is just an excuse to sell our national resources.”

Badi badi baatein, sirf bhashanbaaji [Only big words, only speeches, nothing else],” Pandey said of the Prime Minister in these stressful times. According to Pandey, a government that had captured power in the name of God had now left people to the mercy of God. “It has surrendered completely. To each his own.”

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