Migrant woes spill on streets again as workers throng in Mumbai, Surat
Hundreds of migrant workers gathered at Bandra station in Mumbai on Tuesday, demanding they be taken back to their hometowns in an incident that dealt a major setback to social distancing efforts and highlighting the anxiety among some of the most vulnerable socio-economic classes.
The protest took place hours after the Prime Minister announced that the countrywide lockdown in place to contain the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) will be extended to May 3, a virtual repeat of scenes that took place in several parts of the country late last month when the shutdown was first announced.
A similar protest was held in Gujarat’s Surat on Tuesday, when hundreds of migrant workers sat on a street protest demanding to be allowed to go back home.
In Delhi, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal appealed to migrant workers not to believe rumours that arrangements were being made to ferry them to their home locations, assuring them in a video message that arrangements for their food and shelter were being made. “Don’t fall prey to rumours about bus arrangements,” he said. Police and the district administration officials stepped up vigil to avoid a Mumbai-like situation.
The lockdown halted economic activity, with factories and construction work stopped across the country and migrant workers – including many who work as daily wage earners – not being paid despite appeals by ministers to employers to not withhold salaries.
Mumbai has the highest number of Covid-19 infections in the state, with 1,756 confirmed cases
till Tuesday. The state, with 2,684, has the highest numbers in the country.
“It is the result of the manner in which the lockdown has been extended. People who were stuck in Mumbai were expecting that lockdown will end and they will be allowed to go home but they were disappointed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address today. Their anger burst out on streets of Bandra,” said Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh.
Some of the workers at the train station in Mumbai on Tuesday were lathi-charged by police, who were caught by surprise at the sudden gathering.
State tourism minister and senior leader of the ruling Shiv Sena, Aaditya Thackeray, blamed the Union government for the protest by the migrant workers and sought a road map to facilitate their journey back to their native places. “They don’t want food or shelter, they want to go back home,” Thackeray said, adding that the feedback from all migrant labour camps is similar — “that these workers want to go back”.
The railways ministry tweeted late on Tuesday: It is clarified that all Passenger train services are fully cancelled, across the nation, till 3rd May 2020 and there is no plan to run any special train to clear the passenger rush.”
Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray in a live webcast later in the day said that he will not let the migrant problem “go out of control” and warned that his government will not allow anybody to play with the sentiments of the poor. Thackeray said he also spoke to Union home minister Amit Shah on Tuesday and that all political leaders, including coalition partners Nationalist Congress Party and Congress were on the same page over the need to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak. The state unit of the BJP called the incident the consequence of an intelligence failure.
According to a police official, the number of migrants who gathered was at least 1,000 and they were dispersed after two hours. Many of these people come from states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Farooq Shaikh, a daily wage worker who stays at Behrampada in Bandra (East), said, “I am from Malda in West Bengal. We heard that government was running a special train from Mumbai. So we packed our luggage to leave the city as we have lost our jobs.” Zahid Mistri, also from Malda and who lives in Bandra, said, “We are out of food and now the lockdown has been extended. How will we survive here in Mumbai? We came to know about a special train running for migrants, so we gathered.” Trade representatives said the migrant workers were under pressure for their livelihood. Trade Unions Joint Action Committee Maharashtra convener Vishwas Utagi said there are over two million migrants stuck in Mumbai since the March 25 lockdown, besides 3,000 fishermen stranded at Gholvad in south Gujarat, according to news agency IANS. “They have no food, no work, no homes, no transport to go home. How can they survive?” the report quoted Utagi as saying.
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