The potential mass migration may undermine attempts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to prevent the localized spread of the coronavirus, with some workers even attempting to make the journey on foot, due to widespread closures of public transport.
According to government statistics, every year more than nine million migrant workers move from India’s rural areas to large population centers to find work at construction sites or factories, sending money back to their home towns and villages.
But with those industries closed by the government lockdown, many have been left with little choice but to attempt the return journey home.
Migrant worker Bablu Ehrewal, 24, used to work at a mall construction site earning $7 a day (500 rupees). Construction stopped this week when the lockdown came into effect. Now he is stuck in a slum with 70 other migrant construction workers in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and hasn’t been paid in 20 days.
Without money, he can’t afford food, and with the trains shut, his only option may be to walk home. “It is better than living here with nothing and starving to death,” he said of the choice.
This week the Indian government pledged $22 billion to support to migrant workers trapped without work far away from their homes, including the providing community kitchens and food deliveries.