*Homebound Labour on the Roads – A Reality Check 1* by Brigadier Amul Asthana (Retd) and Col Ashok Binjolkar (Retd)
Today *I thank God* that I live in such a wonderful country, India. Today (22 May 2020) I saw for myself how our citizens, rich-poor-government servants and non-government alike are making most spirited and very well directed efforts to overcome the unimaginable scale and complexity of the homeward bound labor situation. This note is a long narrative, but I urge all to kindly read on and get a ‘real insight’ into the state of affairs.
With great apprehension and carrying the *burden of huge negative news about the migrant labour* crisis*, I ventured out for an ‘on ground reality check’. *(I prefer to call them Indian Labour)
I teamed up with my colleague Col Ashok Binjolkar (Retd). We decided to reach out towards the Palwal-Mathura(UP) highway. Right at the Palwal-KMP highway we came across a group of ‘loaded’ families on foot, and they were just entering a tented *way-point* which was offering water, juices and food! As we moved on we found two state transport buses parked at a dhaba, and people were reaching out to feed them water and snacks.
Further, we found a group of young walking migrants heading to Bihar. Starting from Rewari that morning they had walked & hitch-hiked the 80 odd kilometres by 3 PM.
The *shakar-paras* we gave to a group of walking families were well received with dignity. Despite the scorching 45 degrees heat at about 3PM, they were walking surprisingly fast even though they carried head and shoulder loads and tagged along young children perhaps just over 6 years. Asked as to how they could reach Bihar like this, “we will keep going, *people help us, ‘sarkar’ will help us. We will reach*”. This was the confident reply of this mother, though, just like us, she too did not know what lay ahead along the road.
About 30 Km down the route from the Palwal Crossing we found the next ‘food and drink’ shamiana at a local school gate.
There were groups of ‘Indians’ in tempos, autos, and even passing by cars who were keen to give a lift! (Despite Covid scare, mind you).
At a UP border police post, we were told by a *lively constable*, that they gather the walking or crossing Indian labor here and then send them to *Kosi Kalan* by buses for onward dispatch to their destinations across India! This sounded so good.
We were already *recovering* from the ‘Bad News Only’ syndrome and were getting late. But now Kosi Kalan (7 Km) beckoned and demanded a reality check. At Kosi Kalan we found a rather well organised shamiana manned by volunteers in whites at the entrance to the Anaj Mandi where there was a *Shramik Kendra*.
This was a busy mandi handling hundreds of tons of wheat, and it had large sheds. The wheat trucks crowd the Mandi mostly in the night and by arrangement, the Shramik Passenger buses occupy the same space up to the afternoon. The Indian labour that trickles in whole day long, is dispatched by noon and the numbers again build up by next morning. The *railway and bus staff* here, meticulously register every passenger on arrival and give him a ‘token’. “If they arrive by Haryana State Buses they come with a Manifest and all details are mentioned, and if they come on their own, we record the particulars ourselves” said one of the staff. The crowd is informed on loud hailers, and each group appoints a leader to take the next instructions. We came across several groups huddled in the Anaj Mandi sheds. Each shed is provided with carpets and durries, and we found the bus stand staff and volunteers cleaning the shed and re-laying the durries for the next groups which were already building up. Water tankers were conveniently placed for drinking as well as washing. Number of toilets were there as well. We found the ‘cook house’ busy preparing dinner. The menu for lunch was Karhi-chawal and halwa! They said that the CM has given strict orders that a ‘sweet’ must be part of every meal. In fact, I felt that they all treated the Indian Labor with *dignity and respect*.
We found that the railway and state officials draw up a destination wise passenger manifest. A ‘Temperature and Health’ check is conducted and endorsed for every passenger. Early morning, first the buses carry the train passengers to the Kosi Kalan Railway station, and then the same buses load up for respective bus destinations. ‘Local’ buses to nearby destinations like Mathura, Agra etc run on 24 hours basis.
“Each bus passenger is given a *packed meal* and a bottle of water for the journey. A bus carries only 32 passengers (out of a capacity of 50 or so). 16 buses for Jhansi, and several buses for Damoh, Chandori, Mahoba, Hardoi etc totaling to *over hundred buses* had been sent that morning and would return in the night, for the next day’s loads” said Mr Mool Chand, who is a conductor with one of the buses. We were informed that trains are sent for more distant destinations and across state boundaries. Buses, however, could be sent only to similar such Shramik Kendras bus stations along the UP border. From these border Kendras, they would be re-shipped to their respective states. And, all this transportation, food and ‘stay’ is *100% free*, we found. They said they all had learnt a lot in these last twelve odd days that they had been running this facility. It emerged that they could well send buses direct to destinations in Bihar or MP too, if the respective states could coordinate.
We had introduced ourselves as retired ‘faujis’, and all of them were very happy to share every detail with us and show us around. Overall the entire staff was very involved, up-beat and forthcoming *proud to be doing good work* despite the long hours and despite the lurking danger of Corona. I must say, hats off to the civil administration and the multitude of Indians who are reaching out to help in these challenging times.
Indeed, their enthusiasm and energy rubbed off on us too, and we set course for Delhi, satisfied to have overcome the undue weight of pessimism that had built up due to the intense ambiance of negative news and social media views. All of us realize that there will be some unpleasant incidents, but *the bigger picture of India that I saw is heartening*.
*Disclaimer : I do not belong to or owe allegiance to any political party or group*.
Brigadier Amul Asthana(Retd) & Col Ashok Binjolkar (Retd)