Thiruvananthapuram: Nearly a million of inter-state workers from north India and north-eastern states has become a matter a serious concern for health officials in Kerala which at present has the second largest number of Covid-19 cases in India after Maharashtra.
The Health officials, Local Self Government department and Labour Department officials are keeping a close look at labour camps of these workers who are mainly from Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, north-eastern states. There are several illegal Bangladeshi migrants which form nearly a million of inter-state workers in Kerala.
The major hub of interstate workers who are officially addressed as ‘guest workers’ by Kerala government is Perumbavoor near Kochi, which is the commercial capital of the state.
Nearly three lakhs interstate workers were presently residing in Perumbavoor region know for plywood making units.
Among them, a section had already returned home due to economic slowdown and lack of proper commercial activities in wake the second wave of Corona infection that began in the second week of February in Kerala.
The workers are concentrated here due to the thriving plywood industry.
Dr.Sreedevi.S. Additional District Medical Officer (DMO) of Ernakulam district where Perumbavoor is located said that the large population of ‘guest workers’ in the region and in Kochi city was a matter of concern for the health officials and one of the major awareness campaigns done among these workers was by coming up with Corona/Covid-19 awareness audio clips in different north Indian languages.
“In Perumbavoor we make announcements on vehicles using loudspeakers in different languages and have also conducted several awareness classes two weeks ago. We have also alerted the owners of the plywood making units in Perumbavoor to inform us on the 1056 helpline number or the Government Public Health Centers concerned, if anyone of these labours show Covid-19 symptoms,” Sreedevi said.
He also said that due to the economic slowdown, the information the Health department was getting was that there the number of these interstate workers had came down slightly in the past few months due to economic slowdown.
“Due to corono scare, most of hotel and the wayside eateries in Perumbavoor region have been shut and some are on the verge of shutdown and the migrant labours who were working in this sector had already gone back to their native places. With as many as 39 fresh case of virus infection confirmed in the state in between February 19-22, there could be some scare among these migrant workers and they may opt to go back home.
But, with all the trains services except that of goods trains cancelled by Indian Railways till March 31, now the only option these migrant workers have at present is to take domestic flights from Kochi International Airport to their respective states,” Mr Nizar M M owner of Nass Plywood in Perumbavoor said.
He also said that his unit plywood unit had 70 migrant/interstate workers and he had recently conducted a medical camp for them at his own expense in view of Corona scare.
“However, it is not the case with several other units in the region,” he noted.
It has to be noted that disease like leprosy which had not been reported in Kerala had reappeared in migrant labour camps across the state last year.
Scary situation in Paippad
The second largest hub of migrant workers in Kerala after Perumbavoor is Paippad in Kottayam district.
In this Muslim populated region there are nearly 20,000 migrant workers.
Paippad does not have any specific industry like the plywood industry in Perumbavoor. Unlike Perumbavoor, where the condition of the labour camps are comparatively well maintained, the sheds set up in Paippad for these workers are in abysmal condition in terms of proper health and hygiene.
“Like in Perumbavoor, the Paippad Grama Panchayat has also given them awareness classes and distributed pamphlets. Considering the corono scare, the cops are now patrolling the streets of Paippad where these workers normally gather after work in the evening,” Mr Raju Kottapuzhackal, who represents Pallicachira ward of the grama panchayath said.
He said that there were no instances of interstate workers leaving Paippad due to corona scare.
However, it learned from the local residents of Paippad that they were quite scary of the shockingly unhygienic conditions of these labour camps which do not have proper septic tanks and were kept completely untidy.
The said that the Health department and the grama panchayat should urgently take action to put in place basic hygiene in these camps.
They also said that some of the workers put up in Paippad are illegal migrant workers.
Apna Ghar’ for Guest Workers
“The ‘Apna Ghar’ hostel for migrant workers set up by the state government at Kanjikode Industrial Area in Palakkad are well maintained and kept on high alert in view of corona outbreak in Kerala,” Kanjikode Panchayat Member M Balamurali said.
Nearly 500 workers are presently residing in the ‘Apna Ghar’ where they pay a rent of Rs 750 per month.
“The hostel is under the Labour department and is well maintained. The facilities here for the workers are far better than those in Perumbavoor and Paippad,” he added.
The Floating Population
Gulati Institute of Taxation in a study titled 'Domestic Migrant Labour in Kerala' in 2013 had said that the number of migrant workers in Kerala was 2.5 million.
The state government officials had come out against the number citing that it was farfetched.
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