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India in lockdown: Uttarakhand labourers brace for on-foot journey to home as no transport available

DEHRADUN: Rakesh, Mohammad Umar and Jitendra have stacked up their belongings, water, a few chapatis, onion, pickle and salt to feed themselves while they brace themselves for an on-foot journey spanning a 100-something kilometers to reach home.

Many have to walk between 90-150 kilometers to reach their homes from Haldwani, Bageshwar and other other parts of Uttarakhand to Bareilly, Moradabad and Pilibhit among few.

Rajesh Kumar, a daily wager from Bahedi area of Bareilly district of neighboring Uttar Pradesh said, “We chose to walk to our homes as it is better than remaining here and starving to death. The outbreak and lockdown has snatched away our livelihood.”

Most of them survive on thin tents made out of polythene sheet and bamboo sticks to work on mining areas of Uttarakhand rivers, on construction projects, government sanctioned and private ones.

Mohammad Umar from Pilibhit travelled to Bageshwar to work on a road project. Now walking back home, he said, “We can brave hardships, weather and hilly terrain but it is difficult to win over hunger. We are going back home and do not know what is going to happen next.”

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand state government has decided to provide Rs 1,000 financial help to workers of unorganized sector amidst lockdown.

Trivendra Singh Rawat, the Chief Minister of the state said, “The money will be transferred into the accounts of 3.32 lakh registered workers. The decision was taken to provide help to unorganized sector workers such as daily laborers, auto rickshaw drivers, rickshaw pullers, daily wagers, street food vendors and others.”

Trade unions demanded to increase the financial aid to Rs 5,000 citing that Rs 1000 is not sufficient. Lakhs of these workers have lost their livelihood due to lockdown given covid-19 scare.

Mahendra Jamkhola, secretary of Center for Indian Trade Unions, Uttarakhand chapter said, “The amount is too less for people who rely on daily wage or work in such a sector which runs of generating instant income. The government must pay atleast Rs 5,000 each to these workers to get through the lockdown.”