COVID-19: Kids dehydrated, 58-year-old diabetic dies as thousands gather in Vasai to board Shramik trains

Updated: May 27, 2020, 07:48 IST | Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Woman, 58, collapses and dies in the heat, as thousands assemble at Suncity ground in Vasai, fearing they will miss trains due to short notice

Thousands of migrants wait to be screened and sent to the railway station in Suncity, Vasai. Pics/Hanif Patel
Thousands of migrants wait to be screened and sent to the railway station in Suncity, Vasai. Pics/Hanif Patel

With thousands of migrantsfrom Vasai-Virar, Mumbai and Thane baking in Vasai's Suncity grounds in the fear that they will miss the Shramik trains, a woman died in the crush on Tuesday evening.

Thousands of workers from Vasai, Virar, Nalasopara, Naigaon and adjacent areas including Mumbai and Thane flocked to the Suncity ground in Vasai on Tuesday and baked in the sun as they waited to be allowed on seven Shramik Specials leaving for various districts of Uttar Pradesh. While social distancing was forgotten, migrants also had to contend with the lack of basic facilities such as toilets, water and tents to wait under.

Vidyotma Shukla died after waiting in the sun for five hours
Vidyotma Shukla died after waiting in the sun for five hours

Police on the ground were helpless amid the exceptionally huge number of people desperate to board buses for Vasai Road railway station. Four of the trains were bound for Jaunpur, two for Bhadohi and one for Gorakhpur.

Tehsildar Kiran Survase said that over 10,000 people had gathered at the ground.

Migrants wait to get thermally screened
Migrants wait to get thermally screened

Children wailed, the elderly wiped sweat from their faces and umbrellas and pieces of cardboard went up as people tried to escape from the glare of the sun. The only tent available at the ground was where the thermal screening facility was set up. Migrants were handed tickets after being screened.

Migrants accused the state and central governments of making tall claims and having vested political interests. "I would like to request all politicians to come and see our condition here. We have been forced to sit since morning in the unbearable heat with no tents. Our children are crying. They have not even provided drinking water, nor is there a toilet. It is very easy to sit in a cozy office and make tall claims but the ground reality pokes a deep hole in the claims of politicians," said Mohammad Wasim Shaikh, who used to work at a brick factory in Nalasopara. After waiting for hours with his children, Shaikh learned that there was no train for his hometown, Bhagalpur.

People being taken to Vasai Road station seen inside a bus
People being taken to Vasai Road station seen inside a bus

Sarla Sharma had come for the second time in a week to the ground. During her previous attempt, seeing the lack of social distancing, she and her husband had returned to Nalasopara with their kids. "We cannot afford to go on foot to Jaunpur," said Sharma, whose husband Abhishek works at a marketing company. "The government tells us to maintain social distancing, but where is it here? If I sit in the crowd, I will definitely get infected," said Sharma, who returned to Nalasopara after a daylong wait again. Another migrant Manoj Yadav said, "We are a family of six and have to go to Bhadohi. We have been waiting here since 5 am. The kids are crying for water and food. If I leave to arrange something for kids, the cops will beat me.

A woman provides shade to her kid with her saree in Suncity
A woman provides shade to her kid with her saree in Suncity

Countless difficulties
Male migrants relieved themselves at the fringes of the ground but the women faced a lot of difficulties. A carpenter from Virar, Ashok Mishra paid R500 to an auto driver to reach Suncity from Virar. "I got the call about the train to Gorakhpur at 1 pm. I rushed here but now I am told the train has left," said Mishra. A few migrants collapsed on the ground. "A few children suffered a heat stroke and vomited. But the migrants are so desperate to return home that they are suffering in silence for the fear that they may not be allowed to board a train if they report a health issue," said Dr Rajesh Chouhan, a civic doctor present at Suncity.

People try to protect themselves from the sun
People try to protect themselves from the sun

Migrants sleep on the footpath near Suncity ground
Migrants sleep on the footpath near Suncity ground

Railways informed about trains at 2 am

Sources at the tehsildar's office said that the unprecedented crowd is really unmanageable. "The Indian Railways gives us the list of trains after midnight. We got the list of the seven trains at 2 am on Tuesday. We had to alert migrants, arrange for doctors and other health workers to reach the ground, arrange for food and water at the time of boarding. All this had to be managed within limited hours," said the source. "This is a huge number of people. Hundreds have come from Mumbai and Thane. We have told police to stop them at the border area as the crowd is swelling," said another official at the ground.

When asked about the ill-preparedness, Vasai Virar City Municipal Corporation (VVMC) Commissioner Gangatharan D said, "It is the responsibility of the revenue department to address the issues of migrants. I don't know what facility they have provided on the ground."

Ravinder Bhakar, chief PRO for Western Railway said that the railways are working on a very tight schedule and inform local authorities about the trains at least 12 working hours in advance. "Nearly 80 per cent trains are heading towards UP and Bihar. We have to be in touch with certain zones to ply trains to avoid bunching," Bhakar said.

NGO distributes food

Some migrants, hoping to take the earliest train home, had been living at the footpath for three days. A non-profit organisation, Samadhan Foundation, distributed food packets, fruits, water bottles, and biscuits to the migrants. The non-profit's president Fazle Haque B Qureshi said, "There were nearly 3,000 migrants staying overnight at Suncity. We gave them food and water to the best of our capacity. They slept on the footpath and nearby areas but the government has not provided any shelter." The group is sourcing food from Vasai residents. A meal usually includes sabzi, chapati, kheer, shrikhand, etc.

Waiting in the sun for 5 hours, woman dies

Vinay Shukla
Vinay Shukla

A 58-year-old woman died after waiting in the scorching heat for five hours to board a train to Jaunpur. Vidyotma Shukla had reached Suncity at 11 am with son Vinay, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Vinay said that his mother died of heatstroke and a heart attack as they were made to wait in the open.

"My mother got lost in the crowd when there was a stampede-like situation and fainted. The cops took her to a makeshift tent where I found her after searching for almost 15-20 minutes. The cops called for an ambulance but it came at 4.30 pm. She was rushed to a nearby hospital where she died at 5 pm. The doctor said that she died of a heat stroke and a heart attack," said Vinay, a taxi driver who lives with his extended family in Nalasopara. "We were feeling dehydrated but there was no drinking water. It is a complete failure of the administration. Who tells a human being to sit under the hot sun? Is it because we are poor and we have no power? This is the second death that happened at Suncity and the officials haven't woken up yet," added Vinay.

However, district collector Kailash Shinde, who reached Suncity at 5 pm, said that no stampede had taken place. He said, "We provided all facilities like drinking water and public toilets on the ground. I am not aware if a migrant has died but no one is allowed to sit in the sun. We had set up makeshift tents for them."

2am
Time on Tuesday tehsildar's office was informed of train

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