The grim scenario of thousands of migrant workers walking hundreds of miles to reach their native places could have been avoided had the Delhi government opened over 2,000 schools and colleges — currently shut due to Covid-19 — to house these labourers. The Delhi government and the Municipal Corporations of Delhi have more than 2,000 public schools in the national capital which could have made arrangements for at least 4-5 lakh migrant workers who were forcibly evicted by their landlords for failing to pay their rents.
These public schools are spread across every district in the national capital. Together, these public schools in Delhi have more than 20 lakh students but are currently lying vacant as schools have been shut due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these migrant workers who have been walking for hundreds of miles to reach their native places say that they were forced to take to the streets because their landlords had asked them to vacate their houses and they had nowhere to go.
Some of the employers of these migrant workers also evicted them from their work site, as all works, including those in real estate and factories, had come to a standstill when the country was put under a lockdown to fight Covid-19. One migrant worker hailing from Bihar told The Daily Guardian, “Some Delhi government schools were providing food to us; so what stopped them from providing us the roof we needed.
The schools are lying vacant; they could act as a temporary shelter for us, but we were forced to sleep on the roads.” Another migrant worker from Bengal, who had been living in Delhi and working at a small manufacturing unit for the last seven years, said, “We used to stay at the where we were working, but after the lockdown was announced, our employer asked us to vacate the place as he was sacred that if anyone gets the disease, he will be penalised.
With nowhere to go, I decided to stay outside the New Delhi railway station. We hoped that the state government would make some arrangements for us in schools and colleges, but that did not happen.” Schools and colleges are often used by state governments as relief camps and temporary shelter for people who lose their homes at the time of natural calamities.
But this time around, the doors of these schools and colleges remained shut even when thousands of migrant workers took to the streets to walk back home. Delhi University also has over 90 colleges across the city. These public-funded educational institutions could have accommodated thousands of migrants who were left without food and shelter in the city.