‘No option left’: Labourers from Bundelkhand on the move again for jobs

The migration is reported to have increased post-Diwali.

Despite the grim Covid situation, the Bundelkhand region, spread across districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is witnessing a massive migration of labourers to mega cities in the country in search of jobs, say villagers and social activists in the region. The Madhya Pradesh government claims to have undertaken a number of measures to provide jobs to the labourers.

The migration is reported to have increased post-Diwali. What has added to the migration is want of employment opportunities, damage to the kharif crop due to below average rainfall and no hope for good yield of rabi crops too. As per social activists, more than 40% of the labourers who had returned to their native places during the lockdown have returned to the cities like Delhi, Ghaziabad, Agra, Gurugram, Chandigarh, Indore, etc from the region.

Biharikheda and Udaipura are two neighbouring villages of Sagar district situated about 30 km from the district headquarters. These villages wear almost a deserted look these days. The situation is such that even increasing Covid cases in these cities have not deterred the migrant labourers from getting back to these cities, as per villagers.

These two villages have a population of around 2,500 each and more than 50% of people have once again migrated to big cities for employment.

These villages are not alone in the district or the region witnessing massive migration. Similar situation prevails in other districts of the region whether it’s Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Panna, Niwari or Damoh.

Satu Ahirwar, 83, a resident of Biharikheda, said, “I have three sons and all of them with their families left for Indore after Diwali looking for a job at building sites. There is no employment here and it’s difficult to sustain life with almost no employment and earning. Whatever savings they had was spent during this period. I have just one acre of agriculture land which is hardly enough to provide food to all of us.”

He said, “When I came to know about the alarming increase in Covid cases in Indore I called up my sons and urged them to return but they didn’t listen to my advice and said there was no point in staying here with no job and income. Now I can only pray to God to protect them.”

Kalu Ahirwar, 63, a resident of Udaipura, was sitting outside his house alone. He said, “My son Jhalkan stayed here for four months but he returned to Delhi after Diwali. I talked to him on the phone a couple of days back. He said there was a talk of lockdown in Delhi. If it happens then he would move to Gurugram but at least he would have some job and earning.”

Kalu said, “I have three acre of agricultural land which is not irrigated. My younger son helps me in farming. When the kharif crop was destroyed we sowed seeds of wheat and gram but we have no adequate water for irrigation. I don’t know what would happen to my Rabi crop. Future looks bleak.”

Tulsi Ahirwar of the village with his family has once again returned to Delhi leaving his house locked and so have Bhaiyaram, Ram Kisan and Santosh.

Bhagwat Gond, 26, a tribal, with five other youths from this village is planning to go to Chennai.

Gond said, “We mainly do whitewash work. We had some jobs till Diwali but don’t have any work now to earn money. That’s why we don’t have any other option left but to migrate again.”

Udaipura village’s ex-sarpanch Vinod Yadav said, “MNREGA was of some help to migrant labourers but this is not enough to provide a good income to them. While they earn Rs 300 to Rs 400 per day in big cities they get Rs 190 per day under MNREGA and that too subject to availability of work. In our village the river dries up as winter comes. If some stop dams are constructed here for irrigation purposes then agriculture itself can provide them good employment opportunities. It’s dangerous to migrate to other cities during the pandemic situation but how long can they wait for the situation to improve?”

Prem Choudhary, a resident of Srinagar village in Tikamgarh district, who returned to Gurugram said over the phone, “During the lockdown I could not get much work under MNREGA as sarpanch and panchayat secretary offer work to only those whom they want to favour. I got 20 kg of rice through the public distribution system (PDS). We have about 1.5 acre agricultural land which my father cultivates. These are hardly enough to help us sustain our life particularly when I have six children.”

Chintaman Ahirwar, a resident of Durgapur village in Tikamgarh district, has a similar story to tell.

He said, “I could not have waited for long. Since there is Unlock everywhere and there is availability of jobs which can give good income to me it’s no use wasting my time here when there is hardly any good job available here.”

Superintending engineer, Water Resources Department, Anil Agarwal said, “The water bodies which consist of dams, ponds, etc are filled below their level this year. In Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh and Panna these are filled up to only 50% of the capacity while in Sagar and Damoh it’s around 70%. The irrigation for the rabi crop through the water bodies may not be available as much as was witnessed last year.

Khajuraho railway station manager Man Singh Meena said, “Khajuraho-Delhi-Kurukshetra express these days is carrying migrant labourers from Bundelkhand. After Diwali the number of passengers has increased manifold. On an average around 400-500 tickets are being sold for this train and about 95% of the tickets are taken by the labourers only. At nearby Harpalpur station, the Sampark kranti express is also carrying a good number of migrant labourers from various parts of Bundelkhand.”

Chhatarpur Bus Association spokesman Arvind Goswami said, “About 10 buses are going almost daily with migrant labourers from Chhatarpur, Bada malehra, Gadi malehra, Nowgaon towns, etc. In the neighbouring Panna district the situation is the same.

Social worker Gyanendra Tiwari said, “In Bundelkhand migration has always been a big problem despite the tall claims made by respective governments. Even amid Covid pandemic time people are migrating to big cities in search of employment. More than 50% migrant labourers have returned to the big cities so far while the trend is only increasing by the day.”

He said, “There is not a single village in this region from where migration has not taken place. During lockdown the central government and state government had allocated huge sums for MNREGA jobs but implementation of the same was hardly visible at the ground level due to malpractices and corruption.”

Another social worker Rajkumar Ahirwar from Tikamgarh said, “The Kharif crop was destroyed in Bundelkhand and till now no compensation has been given to the farmers and due to less rainfall the Rabi crop prospects too don’t look good. In such circumstances poor people have no option but to migrate to big cities for employment. By creating employment opportunities, more irrigation facilities and curbing corruption in implementation of the government schemes the government can reduce the level of migration.”

Divisional commissioner of Sagar Mukesh Kumar said, “The state government is trying to provide job opportunities to migrant labourers through MNREGA and other government schemes. I will further talk to district collectors in this respect and will try to provide livelihood means to them here.”

Source: Hindustan Times

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