Governance Now Visionary Talks Series

How Jeevan Raths have helped 52,000 migrants in Maharashtra

Plan 2.0 calls for developing tracking system on movement of migrants


Geetanjali Minhas | May 27, 2020 | Mumbai

#transport   #Migrant Labour   #Mumbai   #Maharashtra   #lockdown   #healthcare   #epidemic   #coronavirus   #COVID-19   #Jeevan Rath   #Railways  
A jeevan rath volunteer distributes food and water to migrant labourers on move (Photo Courtesy: Jeevan Rath initiative)
A jeevan rath volunteer distributes food and water to migrant labourers on move (Photo Courtesy: Jeevan Rath initiative)

Before the novel coronavirus hit it, Mumbai about 10-12 lakh labourers from elsewhere had made it their home. The figure for the state of Maharashtra was another 18-20 lakh. As the pandemic spread and the Maximum City emerged as the worst-hit place in India, all economic activities came to an end, and with that all employment opportunities, leaving these labourers without work and thus without wages. Most landlords were not going to grant them stay on credit, and migrant labourers were left with no option but to turn homeward bound.

In desperation to have the safety and security of home, they thronged railway stations and interstate bus terminals every time they heard rumours of the resumption of transport service. Some even started walking back on foot to home – hundreds of kilometres away, in the scorching summer heat. The Great Exodus had them walking or cycling days after days with no prospect of food and water along the way as roadside eateries have been shut. Many moved in families, including young children, and luggage.

Of late, the central and state governments have started facilitating the movement of migrant labourers to their respective home states, and approximately 30,000-40,000 migrants have been leaving Mumbai daily. Many have been waiting for their turn to get on to buses and trains anyhow. Each train carries around 1,000 to 1,200 travellers.

In an initiative to provide support to theses migrant workers, civic society individuals, organizations foundations, government bodies, technical and regulatory bodies as well as private companies formed an alliance to roll out a lifeline for the labourers on the move, called ‘Jeevan Raths’, at hotspots of Mumbai Metropolitan Region and Pune.

The Jeevan Raths have reached out to migrants providing them water, food and sanitary napkins since May 14 under a common platform called RISE PECONet which includes stakeholders – RISE Infinity Foundation, Geo-Roti Ghar, Hungry Wheels, IDOBRO, CACR, Life Foundation, YUVA, Alert Citizen Forum, Rotary Club of Bombay, CYDA-Pune, Triratna Prerana Mandal, Project Mumbai, United Way Mumbai, Sir Ness Wadia Foundation, Khaana Chahiye, Red Is The New Green, The Resilient Foundation, Helping Hands Charitable Trust, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao, Glenmark Foundation, SAMAGRA, Arghyam, Habitat For Humanity India, YMCA Mumbai, CASA Mumbai, FICCI Ladies Association Mumbai, UNICEF and individual philanthropists.

In its first phase the Jeevan Rath 1.0 has reached out to more than 52,000 people with food, water, WASH and hygiene essentials focusing on migrants who did not have access to train, bus or any other transport mode or were waiting for buses and trains. According to the available figures, at least 4,59,035 people have left Maharashtra, 65,819 have come into the state and 6,31,055 are in-transit in the state.

Governance Now spoke to some volunteers across organisations giving a helping hand to the migrants and distributing food items that could last two-three days – like theplas, chana, peanuts, bananas, and oranges along with electoral powder and water bottles. The volunteers said that provision of drinking water is a major challenge as it is difficult for those walking on foot to carry weight. Most labourers requested for empty glass or bottles to carry along the way as people en route were not willing share water bottles or tumblers due to the risk of Covid-19 infection. Many with lost or worn-down footwear were walking with plastic bottles tied to their feet. 

“We noticed that besides most places, major areas requiring intervention were Panvel-Shilphata, Thane-Majiwada to Bhiwandi junction, Vasai-Ahmedabad highway and Fountain Hotel junction in MMR region, as these are the major connecting junctions. Now the Western Railway has asked for help in its areas at Borivali, Mumbai Central, Vasai-Palghar and Virar lines where about 5,000 migrants per station leave daily without food. For each train the number is 1,800,” said Omkar O’neil  Khare, state consultant, disaster risk reduction, UNICEF.      

“At present we are catering to only 50 percent targets in the MMR region and are challenged for capacity outside. We are now seeking crowd funding on Ketto and Donate Kart,” he added.

“We called it Rath as we thought we would walk down and hand food to people but when we saw huge crowds surrounding the trucks and vans, with long queues where there was no social and physical distancing and the police had to be called to control crowd, we had to change the approach. Due to unmanageable crowds now, the Rath keeps moving around the spot twice daily – for four hours in morning and evening. Within two-three hours the entire food load is finished for which these migrants have been waiting in open for effectively more than 24 hours,” added Khare.

“We have also come across people at Shilphata cycling to Nepal and spending all the money they have to buy extra tubes etc as there is no direct transport to Nepal. In Mumbai at least 20 percent migrant labourers had jobs on hand but said they wanted to go back home. A larger chunk who are jobless wanted to return to their villages,” he said.

Volunteer Vipul Ramina said that with the number of volunteers reducing one has to be extra-cautious of their own and their families’ health as non-availability of volunteers will hamper their work. “It is becoming challenging for volunteers to go out as their families are not allowing them to leave due to risk of infection and the number of doctors also is limited. At a given time there are 2,000-3,000 people at the spot and mad rush to grab food. We have to be very careful and wear mask and gloves. For the police too, it is challenging to manage such large crowds as they have to verify their Aadhaar details which have to be given to the authority. As a bus can only accommodate 40-45 passengers and everyone wants to get inside, those that are left out along with their families prefer to wait for the next bus. With no money to go back they wait at the spot sometimes for more than 24 hours.”

Ramina cautioned that with 10,000-15,000 people travelling daily on buses and given India’s huge population numbers, the peak in Covid-19 infections is yet to come and unless safety guidelines are followed by people, the situation can become uncontrollable.

Shravan Vatari of CACR, a Jeevan Rath alliance partner, too said that once the food distribution starts it gets so crowded that you have to take a mike to tell people to main physical distance. “To take the bus home, 6,000-7,000 people gather there the previous night itself. We have also seen migrants along with their families gathering at spots two-three days in advance, waiting in open, under hot sun at spots where there are no toilets and women go to relieve themselves behind the bushes. Even for volunteers, the problem is that there is not even a municipality toilet there. These migrants are in panic and keep asking when the next bus will come as they are in hurry to go back to their village. They have no money to pay rent to their landlords or pay the fare to the auto rickshaw driver to take them back. If they return their landlord will not allow them in, so they keep waiting there for days till the bus comes and leave them at the state border.”

A  volunteer who did not wish to be named said, “Quite possibly the prime minister’s message to people to stay home and stay safe has been misunderstood by these migrants workers who want to go back home (in their native places). These people are potential virus carriers and (will end up) spreading infection in their hometowns and villages.”

Added Yusuf Kabir, WASH specialist and DDR and emergency focal point, UNICEF Mumbai, “The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has launched a National Migrant Information System, which will serve as a national database for managing the information of migrant labourers who are willing to travel back to their home states. It will include their profile, current location and home location. The database will be managed by the police department and help the government to plan movement. In Mumbai, which is a the major hub of migrants in Maharashtra, the Mantralaya staff will be reporting to the nearest police station and supporting the police. This is a step ahead to address this humanitarian crisis.”

Kabir also emphasized on the need to develop a tracking system on movement of migrants, access to food, water, health and respiratory hygiene materials, ORS and special care for children below 5 years, lactating and pregnant mothers and safety of adolescent girls.

“Migrants, once reaching the villages – especially in case of reverse migration, should be motivated to go for home quarantine (in case of positive cases with no comorbidities) and institutional quarantine. The gram panchayat should ensure delivery of services and address any social stigma. There is also immediate need to map their skill sets and engage them with ongoing MNREGA works and 15th Finance Commission work to ensure their livelihood as there is also a threat of drought or flood knocking the door,” he said.

With an estimated 10,000 people per day leaving by bus every day from a single spot at Thane district (Majivada to Bhivandi and Fountain Naka) when the situation is evolving, the Jeevan Rath collaborative 2.0  strategy note for the period of May 20-June 5 observes that buses are overcrowded and physical distancing is not followed. No screening is being done of people leaving in buses and there is a need for medical aid and assistance for the migrants.

The note also calls for addressing challenges like how to identify items for sourcing, filling  of  e-pass, ensuring  that people who  are travelling on foot or cycle get transport like buses and trains, if screening is organized how to manage crowds and the plan required for people who show symptoms.
“We need to define our scope in terms of food, NFI, medical help without screening, covering three-four touch points, focus on non-perishable food items, avoiding alcohol-based hand sanitizers (‘as people are drinking it’), substantially increasing efforts to generate resources and monsoon preparedness plan in long term planning,” says the note.
Further, to step up relief efforts the alliance calls for increasing the number of volunteers and providing  them insurance, focus on transport carrying maximum number of migrants, increasing number of Raths outside railway stations with large crowds, providing  Raths near bus stations without entering buses, mobile charging facility, end-to-end support and last-mile connectivity, free Covid-19 testing for fitness certificate by fully equipped volunteer doctor for migrants, facilitate online train booking, mapping skills of migrants for long term and sustainable local employment, tracking people for their whereabouts under the GoM disaster management guidelines, having  a strategy for helping migrants once the state transport bus drops them at state border, collaborating with NGOs beyond border districts and setting up of a 24x7 war room for migrants in distress.



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