Violence flared near the IIT Hyderabad campus in Telangana on Wednesday as hundreds of migrant workers employed at a construction site which is attached to the engineering college demanded salaries and permission to go home.
The workers attacked the officials of the construction company who had come to request them to resume the work and the police who arrived later to pacify them, throwing stones and vandalising vehicles. At least one police officer was injured.
Around 2,600 workers - many from states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh - complain that though they have been housed in facilities near the campus and receiving food, they have not received salaries for nearly two months as work was stopped amid the COVID-19 lockdown.
As part of the lockdown, the government has said that companies who have employed contract workers must keep paying their salaries for the months of March and April. This week, the construction company was allowed to resume the work.
A top source in the state government blamed the central institute for the incident. "They should have taken good care of the migrants. They have unnecessarily given Telangana a bad name. If they had informed us, we would have taken care," he said.
Police officials are reluctant to take a stern view of the incident yet and have told the workers that even if they are allowed to go home, their states may not be ready to take them back yet, sources said.
The construction company has promised to pay the pending salaries by Thursday. The workers were constructing a building for the IIT campus in the Sangareddy district.
The strict nationwide lockdown measures, such as severing transport links, have taken a toll on the India's estimated 10 crore migrant workers, triggering an exodus from cities where they worked in garment factories, building sites and brick kilns.
Lakhs of migrant labourers say they are in limbo, struggling to access aid to survive the six-week lockdown in the states where they work and appealing for help from officials back home.
The central government, which has been criticised for announcing an abrupt shutdown without planning and preparation two months into the pandemic, on Wednesday announced it will finally allow inter-state movement of people subject to precautions like a mandatory quarantine and health checks.