Amal Acharjee, the ruling Trinamool Congress legislator from Itahar in North Dinajpur district, is in a catch-22 situation. The otherwise accessible MLA has been flooded with frantic phone calls from labourers from his constituency stranded in various parts of India due to the nationwide lockdown in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
They are pleading him to facilitate their passage back home, a request he is unable to address. But not extending a helping hand to so many voters at this hour of their crisis could have an adverse political implication.
“Tell me what can I do now? How can I bring them back?” Acharjee wondered, sounding disturbed. Over 2,000 labourers from his constituency are now stranded in Kerala, around 1,000 in Maharashtra, nearly 500 in Delhi and 300 in Haryana, he said.
Mohmmad Israil, a mason from Itahar, has been working in a construction project in Mumbai. He and 19 others, through WhatsApp and other social media platforms, said the money and the ration in their possession were not enough to see them through this lockdown period.
“My first concern is to ensure that they get to eat at least two meals a day. I have also brought their plight to the notice of didi (Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee), so that some steps are taken at the government-to-government level to provide them some relief,” Acharjee told The Federal.
“I am in the process getting evacuated those stranded within the state. Around five hundred workers from my constituency got stuck in Kolkata. I spoke to the home and transportation departments to arrange vehicles for their return,” he added.
Banerjee on Thursday wrote to chief ministers of 18 states requesting them to ensure that workers from Bengal could safely stay in their state and get requisite food and medicines, if need be.
Similar calls for help came to Jayanta Naskar, the MLA from Gosaba constituency in South 24 Parganas district. He said around 1,000 workers from his constituency are facing acute shortage of food and other essentials in various parts of the country.
Bengal ranks fourth among the Indian states in outmigration with 5.8 lakh people from the state migrating to other parts of the country, according to 2011 census.
One of the migrant workers from Gosaba, Gopal Mandal told The Federal over phone that eight of them are now somehow cramping in one room at Om Tourist Home, near Thiruvananthapuram Railway station. The rent of the room is ₹800 a day. Besides, they have to arrange their own food.
“The other day, I bought some rice and puffed rice. We are now surviving on that, eating just once a day,” Mandal said. Back home in Gosaba his wife is spending anxious days with their nine-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter.