Karnataka resumes train services, but wait gets longer for migrants

State’s move to cancel trains and make a U-turn leads to chaos with many starting their journey on foot

Workets have been held back at a construction site in Bengaluru. Photo: Prabhu Mallikarjunan

Although the Karnataka government resumed the ‘Shramik Special’ trains on May 7 for the inter-state transport fo migrant workers, the state is facing a crisis in handling the situation.

With more than 2.05 lakh migrant workers registered under the Seva Sindhu, the state has planned to operate 14 special trains with a maximum capacity of 1,200 in each. 

In fact, Karnataka is awaiting confirmation from some states like West Bengal, Rajasthan and Odisha. Even if the states give their consent, around 1.87 lakh migrant workers cannot return home. Officials — from labour secretary to the police on the ground controlling the migrant workers — have no clue about the government’s move.

While the time frame cannot be mentioned, the workers have to wait where they are as the train schedule is done as per the wishes of the states that will receive them, said Labour Secretary Manivannan P. However, he said the police had their [migrant workers’] numbers and would call one by one.

Related News: Karnataka permits bars, restaurants to clear liquor stock

The state’s decision to cancel the trains and then making a U-turn to resume the service has led to chaos and confusion. After having lost hopes in the government, numerous migrant workers have begun their journey on foot to reach home, despite their travel applications got confirmed.

Many rued they were not able to register on the Seva Sindhu platform as the government had suspended the app for two days.

Vikas Kumar Yadav, a migrant labourer working as a cleaner in a Dhaba, left the city for Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, which is around 1,700 km far. “I don’t know when the train services will start. I don’t have an option. I know it will take 20-25 days. I will walk or take help from lorry drivers on the way if I get tired,” Yadav says.

Two more workers engaged in the marble industry for the last four months left the city on May 7 for Udaipur in Rajasthan — around 1,650 km far. “The factory we worked for paid us until march. We have some money in our hands and hope to get help on the way and reach home. We do not want to struggle in this city for food and shelter,” Mangi Lal from Rajasthan said.

Related News: Hundreds of migrants throng railway station, demand to be sent home

Meanwhile, the Karnataka High Court on Friday (May 8) directed the state government to frame a policy and lay down procedures to enable migrant workers to leave Karnataka and reach their respective states.

It asked the state to make arrangements for the operation of Shramik Special trains from different stations, if the migrant workers residing ‘far away’ from the capital city, also wished to go home.

The court also took notice of incidences of builders confining workers at the construction site and said the state will have to attend to such complaints to ensure the migrant workers are not harassed. The court posted the matter for next hearing on May 12 (Tuesday).

“If the migrants become aware of the policy of the State Government, it will ensure that they do not undertake the adventure of walking from their respective places towards their home States,” the court said in its order.

This was in pursuance of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) moving an Interlocutory application challenging the Karnataka government’s move to cancel trains at the behest of real-estate companies. It sought the court to issue directions to the state to provide free and safe transport (by train) up to their home state.

In its appeal, the AICCTU argued that the state government’s decision violated Article 19 (1) and Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. It further highlighted the plight of migrants and said not being with their family during times of crisis had significantly depleted their mental health and caused them severe trauma.

However, the state seems to be unprepared in handling the situation. It pointed fingers at the receiving state and said it had to make arrangements to quarantine people as required by the protocol and hence would take time for the whole process to be completed.

Police personnel at a construction site in Bengaluru, where workers had been held back

At a construction site in Bengaluru, builders had held back workers and had called in police to control them. The jurisdictional police officer said they would not be let out unless they receive directions from the state.

“As and when the state arranges for a train, we will inform them and let them go. Until then, they will have to wait and we are convincing them not to venture out to reach their home states on foot,” the police inspector said.

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