To Appease Builders' Lobby, Karnataka Cancels Trains for Migrant Workers

During a meeting with the chief minister, contractors allegedly assured the government that they would tend to the workers, a responsibility most of them had not shouldered so far.

New Delhi: Soon after Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa’s meeting with builders and contractors, the state government decided to cancel all the trains it had previously requested for to ferry migrant workers back to their home states from today. This decision has been criticised by several trade organisations who said it amounted to forced labour and curbing the freedom of the poor.

The decision by the state BJP government to not let workers return to their home state has come at a time when around 53,000 people had registered for travel back to Bihar alone. Fearing that such large scale reverse migration would impact construction work in the state, a number of builders and contractors under the aegis of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers Associations of India (CREDAI) met Yediyurappa on Tuesday.

During the meeting, these builders and contractors are learnt to have assured the government that they would take care of the labourers, a responsibility most of them had not shouldered so far. A senior official was quoted by the Deccan Herald as saying, “the labourers wanted to go as they had no job. Now that the work will begin, they will stay back.”

Following the meeting, the Revenue Department of the Karnataka government wrote to south western railways seeking the cancellation of the ten trains it had asked for early to transport workers home.

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The newspaper said most of the labourers insisted that they still wanted to go home. It quoted one from Madhya Pradesh as saying that he was even willing to forego his salary.

Karnataka has a number of infrastructure projects – including some Metro lines – currently in the works. Any suspension of the work would also result in an escalation of the costs.

Following his meeting with the builders and contractors, Yediyurappa tweeted that “directions were given to the ministers to convince the labourers to refrain from returning to their home states”. He added that “the labourers should not heed to the rumours and avoid unnecessary travel.”

While some state officials said the decision to cancel the trains was necessitated by the need to revive the state’s economy by restarting the construction activity, labour rights groups have denounced the manner in which the state was trying to forcibly retain workers who did not wish to stay.

The All India Central Council of Trade Unions termed the move a violation of the fundamental right of the freedom of movement and one that promoted forced labour. Activist Vinay Sreenivasa was quoted as saying: “The government has done a great injustice to labourers by bowing down to the pressure from the real estate.”