Indignation, anger rock Karnataka as state cancels trains meant for migrants

The decision came after BS Yediyurappa held a meeting to discuss the importance of resumption of industrial activities and the need to “control unnecessary travel of workers”

The government said many migrant labourers have already been sent home, and that the remaining ones were now needed for construction-related activities. File photo: PTI

The Karnataka government on Wednesday (May 6) cancelled special trains meant to take migrant workers home, citing the resumption of construction work in the state.

The government said many migrant labourers have already been sent home, and that the remaining ones were now needed for construction-related activities.

“We have sent around one lakh people in 3,500 buses and trains back to their home towns. I have also appealed to migrant workers to stay as the construction work has resumed now,” NDTV quoted Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa as saying.

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The decision by the state came after Yediyurappa held a meeting and discussed the importance of resumption of construction, businesses, and other industrial activities, while also talking about the need to “control unnecessary travel of workers”.

Expressing outrage at the forced retention of migrants, the opposition Congress said the BS Yediyurappa-led government was now holding the workers captive and said they were not “bonded labour” to be treated this way.

Congress leader Siddaramaiah put out a series of tweets condemning the decision and said, “The decision of @CMofKarnataka to cancel trains for migrants is not just inhuman but also violation of fundamental rights.”

He also wondered whether people were still practising bonded labour, pointing at the locking down of migrants in this manner.

State Congress chief D K Shivakumar too said, “We can’t keep them (the migrant labourers) captive. We have to take them into confidence. The government and builders must give them incentives,” according to NDTV.

On the other hand, BJP MP from Bengaluru Tejasvi Surya welcomed the move by the Chief Minister, claiming it would help their state come out much stronger in the future.

“Stoppage of inter-state trains by Sri @BSYBJP is a bold and necessary move. It will help migrant labourers who came here with hopes of a better life to restart their dreams. Also, it will kickstart economic activities full throttle. Karnataka will emerge out of this stronger!” he said on Twitter.

However, he received severe backlash from netizens for his tweet, who put out images and videos of the plight of migrant workers in camps and the poor conditions they lived in. These migrant workers have been solely depending on the rations provided by the government so far.

At least 10 special trains were supposed to run from Bengaluru to various northern states including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal this week. However, the state government requested the Indian Railways to cancel these trains, thereby ensuring that lakhs of labourers will not be able to return home unless they travelled by foot.

Many have already attempted, earlier, to walk thousands of kilometers to reach home. However, several casualties were reported.

In what was interpreted as a damage control move, the state government also announced an extra ₹3,000 for “registered” construction workers, in addition to the ₹2,000 they have received earlier. It also said a relief package worth ₹1,600 crore is kept ready for groups that have been the affected the most by the lockdown.

However, other political leaders and activists alleged that most migrant workers are not registered with the labour department and were often exploited by contractors and builders.

Siddaramaiah said the migrants would have chosen to stay back voluntarily if they had been taken care of properly by the government, and urged the Chief Minister to arrange trains again for these workers to return home.

Trade union activists have decided to start a campaign in support of these workers on Thursday (May 7).

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