Coronavirus impact: Rumours, cancellations, and late calls dogging migrants

Updated: May 21, 2020, 07:03 IST | Faizan Khan | Mumbai

Despite state's best efforts, labourers trying to return to their hometowns continue to suffer, even as registration applications keep rising

Migrants from the western suburbs leaving Mumbai. Pics/Ashish Rane
Migrants from the western suburbs leaving Mumbai. Pics/Ashish Rane

Since the Indian Railways gave the nod to run Shramik Special trains to ferry migrants to their hometowns, Mumbai police have received over seven lakh applications and already sent nearly three lakh of them home. On the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, the police have also been tackling rumour-mongering that often leads to chaos.

Despite all the hurdles they are ensuring that the daily wage labourers, stuck in the city without a source of income and daily meals, return to their native places, said police. Thousands of applications keep pouring in every day, they said. Police said they have sent around 2.8 lakh migrant workers in 142 Shramik Special trains so far. On an average, the city runs 20 trains to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and other states, daily.

"I won't be able to tell you what the force is facing on the ground to ensure there is no problem. We have been taking forms despite not knowing who has COVID-19 and who doesn't. Thousands such applications keep coming at most police stations daily and till May 19, we have received over 7 lakh of them," a senior police officer, who is making transportation arrangements for migrants, told mid-day.

Oshiwara Police Station organised a drop for migrants in a BEST bus till Bandra Terminus, from where they took a train to their hometown Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday
Oshiwara Police Station organised a drop for migrants in a BEST bus till Bandra Terminus, from where they took a train to their hometown Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday

The officer added that their work doesn't end at accepting applications. "We have to arrange transport to the railway stations, provide food, water, etc. We make all necessary arrangements while risking our own lives," he said.

But their efforts are constantly challenged by rumours, and due to cancellation of trains. Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Pranaya Ashok attributed the overcrowding at the stations to rumours about trains leaving the city. "The same happened in Bandra," he said.

There are times when the workers reach the station on receiving a call from the police, but are turned away either due to miscommunication or cancellation. Ashok said "sometimes, due to train cancellation, we have to send them back till new arrangement is made."

Gayasuddin Sheikh, a migrant staying in Nirmal Nagar, Bandra, told mid-day, "After submitting the form at police station, we got a call one day about a train to Bihar. We reached Bandra Terminus where thousand others had gathered. Our number never came up and the police asked us to leave." He added, "There was another train on Wednesday and 18 of us were taken to the station on a bus, but the train left as soon as we reached our destination."

Shahnavaz Khan, who has been stuck in Mumbai since February when he came for a job interview, has also been trying to find a place on one of the special trains to Bihar. "I submitted the form on May 6, and on May 13 I got a call from Nirmal Nagar police station for a train next day. I went to Bandra Terminus on May 14 but my number didn't come up, as there was a huge rush."

Navi Mumbai in same spot
The situation is the same in Navi Mumbai. Mohammed Naushad from Kamothe said a day after submitting an application online for a train to Uttar Pradesh, he was asked to come to report to the police station.

"When I reached the police station, I was told my name was not registered with them and was asked to go back home. I went back another day and waited for six hours, but my name didn't come up."

Navi Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjay Kumar said, "Sometimes, this happens because of cancellation of trains or assessment of number of travellers. We call more people because several who registered to travel have already left," said.

Navi Mumbai police has sent around 28,000 migrant workers in 26 special trains.

7 lakh
Approx no. of migrants' applications city cops received till May 19

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