Suryakant Jena

Bhubaneswar: The episode of hunger crisis driving migrant exodus in India has all but exposed a gloomy picture of how COVID-19 is leaving an ineradicable dent in the economic condition of the poorest and the most vulnerable sections of society.

Odisha, which has witnessed the worst migration scenario, has been in limelight for the record spike in COVID cases due to heavy influx backed by scores of stories on the plight of these migrants.

From Bhadrak to capital Bhubaneswar to the far-off Malkangiri, scenes of the crisis hitting the migrant amid lockdown have captured the focus of all.

With no job at hand and resources slowly draining out, the predicament has hit old persons, children and women among the migrants the most than anyone. For them, it seems better to die walking home rather than wait and see a painful death due to hunger.

A number of instances coming to the fore on a daily basis reveal a clear picture on how workers returning from other States to Odisha and those exiting Odisha to their home State are bearing the brunt of COVID lockdown, be it lack of transportation facilities, food, shelter or even absence of healthcare.

Many don’t think twice before setting a journey by foot or cycle all the way to their homes and seeking unsafe rides in other vehicles braving all odds.

According to sources, as many as 250 labourers of several districts like Balasore, Bhadrak who managed to return to Odisha after a lot of hardships are yet to get back to their homes even though they had arrived in Khurda 3 days ago.

The returnees who also include several kids and women have alleged that they haven’t received any assistance from the administration let alone food and shelter.

They have sought help from the authorities to make arrangements for their return to their home districts.

A video which has surfaced shows the returnees criticising the government for not coming to their rescue. In the video, people could be seen venting their anger on the government for bringing them back and forcing them to stay without any facilities far away from their home.

“We are fighting Corona but the situation was so uncaring that we were forced to drink poor quality water from the train toilet,” a returnee said while narrating about their return to Odisha from Surat.

“The government is only dramatising the concept of social distancing but in reality, we were brought here in buses like a bunch of animals,” said another returnee.

The authorities could not be contacted over the issue.

On the other hand, the State government has initiated bus services to help migrants reach the state border in order to alleviate problems faced by migrants travelling from Odisha.

After a migrant Odia worker died on road in Andhra Pradesh while walking back home, police have lent a helping hand to those going out of Odisha on foot by arranging buses to take them to the border of the state, an official said on Thursday.

Six buses carrying more than 250 workers, who were walking home, were dropped on the borders of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh on Wednesday evening, a senior police officer said.

The officer said a large number of migrant workers are found transiting through Odisha on foot to reach their home states.

"Odisha Police is using buses from important checkpoints like Sohela, Girisola and Kerada to carry the migrants to the border," the official said.

He said two buses from Sohela check gate in Bargarh district dropped migrant workers of Jharkhand at Biramitrapur in Sundargarh district.

Similarly, the workers of West Bengal were picked up near Jamsola gate in Mayurbhanj district and dropped near their state border.

Two buses from Kerada in Rayagada district also dropped migrants of Chhattisgarh at border points in Nabarangapur and Nuapada districts, the officer said.

The Odisha government has made the arrangements following reports of a 21-year-old worker collapsing and dying on the road apparently due to sunstroke at Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh. The man had walked 300 km with three friends in a bid to reach Malkangiri district.

Another migrant worker returning from Kolkata to Odisha died after collapsing near Laxmannath Gate in Jaleswar area of Balasore. His mobile phone call details indicate that he belongs to Kakatpur area in Puri.

The deceased 56-year-old migrant worker, identified as Dhubei Charan Mohanty was a resident of Tikarpada village in Kakatpur. He was rushed to a Community Health Centre after he collapsed on the road in the scorching heat,  where he was declared dead. The victim was working with a private company in Kolkata.

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