As Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and others braced for a large return of their natives, more non-stop Shramik Special’ trains were operated on Saturday to ferry thousands of stranded migrant workers, a day after the Railways rolled out the first such passenger service during the national lockdown.
The first train to Bihar carrying 1,187 stranded migrant labourers reached the Danapur railway station on the outskirts in Patna from Jaipur in the afternoon after a 16-hour journey. Most of of the train services originated from Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat as lakhs of migrant workers hope to return to their native places having lost their livelihood during the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
The relief mission turned tragic in Jharkhand when a policeman died and four other security personnel suffered minor injuries when their van overturned in Ramgarh district.
Police said the incident happened when they were escorting a bus carrying migrant workers from Hatia to Chatra, shortly after the first special train ferrying over 1,200 people from Hyderabad reached Hatia on the outskirts of Ranchi late on Friday night.
Jharkhand Director General of Police M V Rao said constable Dinesh Kumar, 38, of the Chatra Police died when he was driving the vehicle which met with an accident at 0230 am last night. We lost a dear colleague #FightAgainstCorona, he tweeted.
Defying curbs and norms like physical distancing, migrant workers staged a flash protest in Chennai, demanding that the authorities send them to their home states like Jharkhand immediately, an official said.
The workers, housed at various facilities in the city converged at three different locations –Velachery, Pozhichallur and Guindy Industrial Estate– he said.
The protests led to anxiety for a while, the official said, adding the police pacified the workers and sent them back to their respective places of stay.
Around 1,000 migrant labourers, mostly from northern parts of India, also took to the streets in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district to demand that arrangements be made for their return to the native places, police said.
They tried to block the highway and started walking towards the railway station, police said.
The incident happened around 9.30 am at Ballarpur in the district, the police said, adding the situation is now under control.
As plans were afoot to operate hundreds of trains in the coming days, Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa and his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar appealed to migrant workers in their states not to leave and start working in industrial units that have been allowed to resume operations.
On the prospects of providing jobs to the returning natives, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asked officials to firm up a plan to provide employment to nearly 20 lakh people in the state after studying the Centre’s advisory on lockdown and the permitted economic activities.
He also asked them to compile all details including names, addresses, mobile numbers and work competencies of labourers returning to the state to facilitate their employment.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also noted that many projects underway in his state happen to be labour-intensive.
Once the dust settles down, a survey should be conducted to assess the skills these migrant labourers might have and they should be absorbed in the workforce accordingly,” he told officials in Patna.
Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi recently estimated the count of migrants from Bihar stranded during the lockdown in different parts of the country at around 27 lakh.
These passengers who reached Patna will be quarantined for 21 days at their respective block-level quarantine centres, Chief Public Relation Officer (CPRO), East Central Railway, Hajipur, Rajesh Kumar told PTI. He said the train carried only migrant labourers who were working in Rajasthan.
During a marathon meeting with officials on Friday, Nitish Kumar asked officials to make arrangements for the mandatory 21-day quarantine, medical tests and treatment and, subsequently, economic rehabilitation in view of the massive influx of migrant workers expected in the state in the near future.
“Now, we must brace ourselves for the situation that may arise out of a large influx that is expected in the wake of the Centre’s revised guidelines with regard to the lockdown,” he said.
The migrant workers on the first special train to Hatia from Hyderabad were visibly ecstatic as it chugged into the station around 11.15 PM.
They were welcomed with roses by senior officials.
“I am very happy. I don’t have words to express my delight…. We were given proper food there and also here,” a migrant worker from Ramgarh said, adding he always believed that he would return home.
Thanking the government for their safe return, another migrant worker said he “has no words to express my delight”.
Arrangements were also been made to receive two special trains to Jharkhand ferrying students from Rajasthan’s Kota arriving in Ranchi and Dhanbad in the evening.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren advised all migrant workers to become soldiers in the fight against coronavirus and protect themselves, their families and villages.
A train carrying around 1,100 stranded ‘guest workers’ from Kerala also left for Hatia from Thiruvananthapuram, railway sources said.
This is the second train which left from Kerala with the workers, a day after around 1,100 migrant workers from Aluva in Kochi left for Bhubaneswar in Odisha on Friday night.
Migrant workers are described as guest workers’ in states like Kerala and Odisha.
Four more trains from Kerala are expected to leave with the workers from Tirur, Kozhikode, Ernakulam South and Aluva stations later this evening for Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. .
A special train carrying over 340 stranded labourers from Nashik in Maharashtra also reached Bhopal on Saturday morning.
A district official said that the train reached Misrod Railway Station on the outskirts of Bhopal.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Friday announced that one lakh labourers from the state stuck in various parts of the country will be brought back by special trains.
According to an official, 50,000 of the labourers from the state are in Maharashtra, 30,000 in Gujarat, 8,000 in Tamil Nadu, 5,000 in Karnataka, 10,000 in Andhra Pradesh and 3,000 in Goa.
A special train was also operated to Lucknow from Nashik. It was originally scheduled to depart last night.
Three special trains, carrying 1,200 migrant workers each, will on Saturday night leave for Uttar Pradesh and Odisha from Gujarat’s Ahmedabad and Surat stations, a senior official said.
While two trains will leave from Ahmedabad to Agra, another will depart from Surat to Behrampur in Odisha, said Ashwani Kumar, secretary to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.
The Delhi police also cautioned migrant labourers against a fake form being circulated through the social media after several of them reached police stations in Shahdara district to deposit the filled document thinking it would streamline the process for their travel to their home states.