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Cash crunch-hit Bihar migrant workers head back home

Patna: Chandeshwar Prasad and Mahesh Yadav, both migrant workers from Bihar, are on unscheduled visit to their homes, as the factory owners told them to take a break and visit their families, after production was hit badly in the wake of demonetisation.

“This ‘notebandi’ (demonetisation) has created cash crunch that led owners of big, medium and small production units to cut working days and hours. That rendered people like us jobless and we are now back home,” said Prasad.

Some had returned home in the last week of November and more are likely in the coming days, said Prasad, in his mid 30s, and Yadav, in his late 40s, soon after reaching Patna Railway Station on Monday by Sealdah-Amritsar Express.

Prasad and Yadav, both from Vaishali district, work in an ancillary unit which makes parts for bicycles in Ludhiana in Punjab.

“We never expected to visit home in winter (December). The situation created by notebandi forced us to return to Bihar. Our factory owners promised to call us back when the demand for production picks up,” they said.

Prasad said thousands of migrant workers from Bihar working in Ludhiana, particularly in ancillary units and hosiery or garment factories, have been badly hit by notebandi.

“After the demand for bicycles, hosiery or other garments went down in the market, workers were told that they would get less hours of work and no overtime. We used to earn Rs 18,000 to Rs 25,000 every month, depending on overtime,” Yadav said.

Like Prasad and Yadav, hundreds of migrant workers have returned to their villages and small towns across Bihar in the past 10 days, while many more are on their way back.

Janardhan Singh, another migrant worker in his early 50s who returned recently, said workers like him were told by the factory owner that as the production has slipped to almost half since demonetisation, he cannot provide work to all.

“Owner of the factory told half the workforce to return home until asked to rejoin,” Singh, who works in a tool manufacturing unit in Haryana, said as he deboarded from Magadh Express train.

Singh, hailing from neighbouring Jehanabad district, said now he will have to stay at home. “I will lose Rs 20,000 income every month. It’s difficult for people like us to get fresh jobs, as the entire manufacturing sector is without demands.”

Mainsh Kumar Sharma and Sushil Choudhary, residents of Tajpur in Samastipur district, reached here by Surat-Bhagalpur Express. They said notebandi has badly hit the diamond industry in Surat and hundreds of workers like them have been asked to proceed on holiday.

“We work in a small diamond cutting and polishing unit. Our owner advised us to return home due to slowdown in demand. Diamond cutting and polishing units are connected with the jewellery business that was hit by cash crunch despite ongoing marriages and the coming Christmas season,” Sharma, in his late 20s, said.

Surat is the world’s diamond hub, which for decades has been one of the dream destinations of migrant workers from Bihar.

More or less similar story was told by Jamal Ansari and Mansoor Alam, both migrant workers returning from Tirupur in Tamil Nadu.

“We were working in textile industry in Triupur and were paid weekly in cash, while some workers were paid daily in cash. But after the cash crunch and low production, nearly half the workers have been told to return until the situation normalises,” said Ansari, a resident of Bhojpur district.

That is not all. Hundreds of workers employed in the farmlands of Punjab, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Assam have also been returning Bihar these days.

“Just see, how badly crowded are the general bogies of the express trains…Most of the passengers are workers engaged in agriculture fields…they have lost their jobs,” said Satyam Paswan.

A resident of Patna district, who reached here by Ernakulam Express train, Paswan said: “I, along with half a dozen co-villagers, working in agriculture sector in Kerala’s Kottayam were asked by the farm owner to take rest for few weeks.”

Another farm labourer, Kamlesh Manjhi, who reached here from Bhatinnda in Punjab, said after wheat sowing was badly hit by cash crunch, farm owner refused to pay us. “We decided to return because without daily earning in cash, we cannot survive…”

Manjhi had left his village early last month after Chhath, the most popular festival of Bihar, for Punjab to work in an agriculture field during the rabi season. But he returned disappointed. “Now I have to look for work locally to earn a livelihood,” Manjhi said.

Annually, hundreds of thousands of migrants from Bihar return home to celebrate Chhath festival with their families and relatives. Some also visit during Holi, the festival of colours in March, and during the traditional marriage season in the summer.

But this is first time that migrant workers in such large numbers are returning to Bihar during the winter, an unseasonal time for them to get back home in their villages or small towns.