Mumbai: It was a social-distancing nightmare at Mumbai’s Bandra Terminus Tuesday morning as rumours about additional Shramik trains led thousands of migrant labourers to converge on the train station.
The episode didn’t end there — migrants told ThePrint that police used forced to disperse the crowd even as the police brass denied the allegations.
Shramik trains are a special initiative arranged by the government to ferry home the lakhs of migrant labourers stranded across India’s urban centres by the Covid-19 lockdown. While the lockdown began 25 March, the trains were announced 1 May.
A Shramik train was scheduled to depart from Bandra for Purnia, Bihar, at noon. However, several migrant labourers told ThePrint about a rumour that suggested two other trains were to set off from Bandra for Bihar later in the day, one in the afternoon and another in the evening.
As a result, a crowd of 4,000-5,000 labourers gathered around the terminus early morning, taking the narrow bridge from Bandra (East) slums. They then attempted to get to the station.
Police moved in and drove away all the people except the 1,700 registered to board the noon train.
“There was a rumour that there is another train in the evening, so migrants from Dadar, Mahim, Sion, Chembur… gathered here, but we spoke to them and asked them to leave,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Manjunath Singe.
He acknowledged that workers are desperate to go home, but said police is doing its best to facilitate their return.
Migrant labourers allege bribery, violence
Registration for Shramik trains involves smooth coordination between the labourers, the district administration and police.
Volunteers in a certain district have to make a list of 35-100 stranded migrant labourers and submit it to a local police station, which forwards the lists to the district collector’s office.
The district collector’s office then forwards the request to the receiving state. Once the state approves the list, a train is assigned by the railways and police inform the workers.
Many of the workers who gathered at Bandra terminus Tuesday said they had “grown tired” of waiting to hear from police. They had heard that some people managed to catch the Shramik Express trains without registering, and wanted to try their luck, they added.
Mohammed Tabrez, who arrived at the station 2 am, said he had registered with police 15 days ago but not heard back.
“I had heard some men left in the train without being registered so I thought I will line up to try and do the same, but police asked us to leave,” he added.
Asha Devi, who has been in Mumbai for six months to seek treatment for her child, said she was desperate to get back home to Bihar.
“I had come to get my child treated at JJ hospital… but we are stuck here,” she added, in tears, saying her pregnant daughter was alone at home.
Some workers alleged that police were asking them to cough up Rs 1,000-1,500 per ticket to board trains. “Those who have money are going, they [police] are asking us for Rs 1,000-1,500 to board the train,” said Mohammed Shamshad. The migrant labourer from Sitamarhi, Bihar, added that he had no money left for survival.
Raja Babu, another labourer, said he had received a message to board the train but was still beaten up. “Police beat us mercilessly from all sides,” he added, as other migrant labourers sought to show ThePrint reporters the injuries they had allegedly sustained in police lathi charge.
Police, however, have denied all allegations. “Mumbai police is trying its best to send the migrant labourers home, such allegations are baseless,” said Singe. Asked about the accusations of violence, Singe said police had only “displayed force” and not resorted to lathi charge.
This is not the first such incident at Bandra. On 14 April, thousands had gathered at Bandra amid rumours that special trains would be started for migrant workers as the first lockdown ended.
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