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‘Heaven On Earth’ Beckons Bengal Migrants From Hell!

‘Heaven On Earth’ Beckons Bengal Migrants From Hell!

Thousands of migrant workers who had returned home to West Bengal and been dismayed by government unconcern have sold their all to buy tickets back to Kashmir orchards

Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal government has shunned them, so they are going back in droves to ‘Heaven on Earth’: Kashmir, where they had run away from four months ago.

Thousands of migrant workers who had come back on assurance of jobs and support feel cheated by ‘Didi’s’ government and have found practically no means of sustenance.

Most of them have not even been able to manage to get the promised “Job Card”, and the rural employment scheme under MNERGA will barely give them 30-35 days of work per year.

Instead, if they work in the apple orchards, they will earn anything between Rs 450 and 500 a day.

In the dark days they are passing through, this future almost looks rosy, as rosy as the apples.

Meet Enayat Ali from Nirmalchar, a siltation landmass in the river Padma in Bhagavangola Block of Murshidabad district.

“We have sold off what we had, or taken loans to purchase air tickets. We shall fly out at the first chance when our agents call us.

“We are more afraid of dying of starvation here in our own land than dying of Corona,” Ali says.

None of them has so far received more than a fortnight’s work.

“Life has become extremely hard for all of us.With meagre rice from ration shops and some occasional reliefs, we can no longer fend for ourselves,” claims Abu Hasan, Enayat’s neighbour.

And people sitting around him nod their heads, as much in agreement as in sadness and anger.

As it is, during the monsoons, the River Padma forces a natural lockdown for three months at a stretch every year on the Nirmalchar community.

They are forced to abandon their fields and the farmers have to move to higher land to survive the floods.

On top of that, nearly four months of no work and no income have compelled them to leave again for their old pastures.

They have packed up their little possessions and are ready to move.

In fact, rather than a happy homecoming, they found on return that they were being treated as an economic burden.

Thus a large scale re-migration of thousands of workers from the state has just begun in parts of West Bengal.

Most of them have mortgaged whatever was left, for a perilous journey ahead only to beat hunger for themselves and their families.

Almost ninety five per cent of the workers are heading for Kashmir to work there in the apple gardens.

There has been a bumper crop this year and an acute shortage of these Bengali Muslim workers.

The middlemen say they receive constant calls from the orchard owners to find more workers.

“The agent who organises our trip, has been receiving several calls from the garden owners to ensure our return,” reveals Enayat.

“Once the flight operations resume, we’ll leave on the first flight,” he exudes confidence.

“We’ll be able to repay our loans, as we’re not going to sit idle there, which we’re doing here now.”

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According to Census data 2011, West Bengal ranked fourth among states on outward migration. The numbers have only risen since.

In the last two decades, West Bengal has had a massive wave of outward migration, especially to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Maharashtra besides, Jammu & Kashmir.

Factories and tea gardens have been closing down in the state, and farm income has been dwindling.

The last straw was the catastrophic Cyclone Amphan ravaging a large part of deltaic West Bengal this year, and migration has gradually become a compulsion.

“In 2001, West Bengal was net positive in terms of migration, but by 2011, it turned net negative.

“Long-term policy failure, demographic transition that added a large young population, and agrarian stagnation led to this wave of outward migration, and it has been growing fast,” says Rabiul Ansary, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Utkal University, Odisha.

Actually, these migrant workers who are now back home are also being seen as huge burden on the local economy.

Another argument being dished out is that they don’t have requisite skills to be employed in agriculture, avers Aniruddha Dey, Executive Director, Professional Institute for Development & Socio Environmental Management (PRISM), an environment consultancy firm.

In this scenario, with thousands of returnees from April, the rural job market was flooded and because of too many unemployed, job givers have shrunk each one’s pay packet.

And in Bengal where labour and agriculture-related jobs have become quite scarce in the wake of the pandemic, the state government has little wherewithal to create employment.

Hence,the worrying fact is that on an average in the past four years, employment under MNREGA was provided for just 30-35 days in a year, with rate of daily wages crashing vis-a-vis agriculture wages, says KR Shyam Sundar, Professor of Human Resource Management at Xavier Institute of Management, Jamshedpur.

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