With just about 10 days to go for the lockdown to end on May 3, Maharashtra urged the Union government to plan and resume railway services for several lakh migrant labourers who want to return home.
In a letter to Minister for Railways Piyush Goyal on Thursday, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar warned of a possible repeat of the violent incidents at the Bandra railway station on April 14, when thousands of migrant labourers who had gathered hoping to return home had to be turned back.
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He appealed for advance planning for resuming train services to facilitate the return of nearly 6.5 lakh labourers. The special trains could originate from Mumbai and Pune to all major destinations in the country, he said, “to accommodate all such restless labourers”.
Warning of potential law and order problems, Mr. Pawar said Maharashtra has the highest number of migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other northern States.
While the State was providing them food and health services, the labourers were without jobs and eagerly waiting to go home.
“All these informal labourers are now jobless and eagerly waiting to go to their respective States. The incidents at Bandra Railway station gathering happened in Mumbai and is an example of restlessness of such labourers. In near future or maybe on May 3, 2020, or any other later date as decided by the Government of India, the lockdown would be withdrawn and public transport including railway would be starting and there will be a huge rush of all these migrated labourers at all railway stations,” Mr Pawar warned.
Thousands of migrant labourers had gathered outside the Bandra station on April 14 — which marked the end of the first phase of lockdown — hoping to return home. With the extension of the lockdown and absence of trains, the police had to resort to a lathi charge to disperse the desperate people, resulting in several injures and arrests. It was alleged the crowd had gathered following rumours long-distance trains had started functioning even as politicians in the State criticised Centre’s lack of planning.
Several Cabinet ministers from the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government had blamed the Centre for the incident.
“The current situation at Bandra Station, now dispersed or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the Union Government not being able to take a call on arranging a way back home for migrant labour. They do not want food or shelter; they want to go back home,” Maharashtra Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray had tweeted.