On Foot, On Truck and Finally, A Bus

On Foot, On Truck and Finally, A Bus

The kitchen on the Odisha-AP border in Ganjam district was up and running early today morning. On the menu was vegetable biryani, chole with lemon and onion. In another room packets of puffed rice or moodhi, biscuit and mixture was being prepared. By 10 am, 300 packets were made; another 200 were being readied.

These packets were for the migrant workers walking back home on NH-16 from the southern states to Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar. And these food packets are being prepared by a group of volunteers in Berhampur, Odisha. The team is short staffed. Not many volunteers are coming forward due to the spread of the disease in Ganjam district; it is a hotspot.

With the temperatures itching to cross the 40 degree mark and the threat of cyclone Amphan looming large, the migrant workers were arriving at Berhampur.  Volunteers of Youth for Social Development (YSD) — one of our partners during our COVID-19 relief — intercepted and requested them to take a nap under nearby tree, while they arranged for the mobile van to arrive with food packets.

At around 1 pm, the team of volunteers intercepted another team of migrants. They had arrived from Tamil Nadu, walking mostly and managing to get lifts for short distances on trucks for the last two days. The Odisha police had asked them to wait at the Berhampur bus stand with an assurance that a bus will be arranged for them. They had another 300-500 kms to cover before they would reach home in Nuapada, Balangir and Kalahandi districts in the western parts of Odisha. They hadn’t eaten for the last two days. Like the millions of workers walking home, desperation was taking over and they were ready to continue without food, lest they be stopped again if they took a break.   

The first thing that our volunteers did was to provide food at the place where they were waiting. Our Oxfam India colleagues in Bhubaneswar contacted the Additional Chief Secretary and State Relief Commissioner and also the district administration to apprise of the situation of these migrants. The Additional Chief Secretary took immediate note and  advised Ganjam SP to provide arrangements.

In another thirty minutes, the Commissioner of Berhampur Municipal Corporation contacted Bimal Pandia, Oxfam India’s Programme Officer, who then put him in touch with the migrants. By 2 pm, the migrants had been assured of a vehicle to ferry them to their respective districts. The bus will start from Berhampur at 11 pm with more migrants heading for Western Odisha. Meanwhile, the team of migrant workers are now at Haldiapadar bus stand of Berhampur. Our volunteers will provide them dinner just before the bus will leave tonight.

This was just day one of our Pathik Project in Odisha. The swift action by the government is a huge morale boost for the migrant workers, to know they are cared for.

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