Bareilly: Nearly 1,000 migrant workers reached Bareilly from Punjab’s Ludhiana Wednesday, relieved to be finally back in their home state. But the 600-kilometre journey on the Central government-run Shramik Express, which took a little more than 11 hours, was marked by no provisions for food and water.
Speaking to ThePrint upon their arrival in the Uttar Pradesh city, several workers complained that the Punjab government asked them to arrange for their own meals and water.
However, they were given the railway tickets free of cost — an issue that became political this week over the share of Centre and states.
“We didn’t eat anything since the time we boarded the train. Forget food, the Punjab government didn’t even provide us with water for the journey… we know how we have come such a long way,” said 28-year-old Nooni Ram, who ran a small eatery in Ludhiana and was on his way to Aonla town in Bareilly district.
“The government sent us a message yesterday asking us to carry food and water for the journey. There were no shops open, how can we arrange it all for our family?” Ram said.
He was referring to a message from the Ludhiana district magistrate (DM), which asked the workers to carry food and water for the journey, adding the travel will be dependent on their medical screening. All the workers carried a medical certificate to get clearance for the journey.
Ram was travelling with his wife and a two-year-old child. “We only had two popcorn packets to feed the child during the train journey,” he said.
Anuj, a tailor who was also on his way to Aonla, said, “We were really confused about the train timing. Even though the train was scheduled for 3 am, it only started after a few hours.
“We had requested the authorities to delay the schedule to at least 6 am as we had to make arrangements… we have families… but they didn’t comply. We couldn’t sleep at night out of tension and anxiety,” he added.
The train that started around 6 am, reached Bareilly at 5.30 pm.
Another distressed migrant worker, from Sirauli in Bareilly, said she had to repeatedly breastfeed her 6-month-old kid to keep him from crying. “I didn’t have water or food… looks like our tensions never end,” she added.
The workers were provided with meal packets and water bottles after they reached the Bareilly railway station.
At the station
These migrant workers had registered themselves with a Punjab government-run online portal for making the journey. They were notified about their travel via the Ludhiana DM’s message Tuesday night.
Once they got down from the train, the workers were screened by eight teams of healthcare staff upon arrival. Sanitation workers also sprayed disinfectants around the platform area after the arrival.
On Wednesday, two migrant workers were sent to healthcare facilities after they showed symptoms. This came a day after three workers were sent for health checkup by the state authorities when they reached Bareilly from Gujarat in a special train, said Satya Veer Singh, the Bareilly station superintendent.
“Yesterday, 1,218 workers had arrived here from Gujarat in the special train. They were screened by six teams of healthcare workers. We are following all social distancing norms during the transportation process,” said Singh.
The move ahead
In Bareilly, railway officials arranged further transportation of these migrant workers in collaboration with the local police. As many as 43 buses were used to send the workers back to their native places.
Only 35 passengers were allowed on each of these buses, which can otherwise accommodate up to 54, said a bus conductor named Anil.
The workers said they will try to look for conveyance to their villages once the buses reach their destinations.
“We have to again see what conveyance we find upon reaching Aonla as our native place is actually in Hardaspur village. If we don’t get conveyance, then we will have to walk the distance (around 18 km),” said Ram.
Veerpal Singh, a worker in a motorcycle factory in Ludhiana, said he was on his way to Aliganj, a town in Etah district for his daughter’s wedding. “My daughter’s wedding is to be held on 10 May. If 5-7 people also come, we will get her married off,” Singh said.
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