Morsalim Mallick had been waiting to return to his village, Jangipara, in West Bengal’s Hooghly district for more than two months. The daily wage earner, stranded in Shah-e-Alam due to the Covid-19 lockdown, finally boarded a Shramik Special train from Kalupur railway station in Ahmedabad to Cooch Behar – which is 600 kilometres away from his village– at 1:30 pm on Saturday. Another special train to Howrah station, which is 50 kilometres away from his village, was supposed to leave at 7 pm from the same station, but the 55-year-old says he “does not want to take chances”.
Fearing cancellation of Shramik trains, around hundred migrant labourers including Salim have boarded the train to Cooch Behar.
“We were hearing of trains being cancelled, so we did not want to take any chances. We started walking from Shah-e-Alam area and reached Kalupur station at around 3 or 4 a.m. today. We were told that there is a train for Howrah at 7 pm today but we boarded the Cooch Behar train at around 1:30 p.m. today. We have been told that the West Bengal government will drop us to our villages from there.”
Morsalim (55), who was residing at Shah-e-Alam area with his two cousin brothers, found it increasingly hard to either provide for their own sustenance or send money back home, since the lockdown marred their earnings.
“I just want to go home now. My mother, wife, son and daughter are stressed and I have only Rs 150 in my pocket. I have no idea when we will reach but at least we are headed in that direction. We have been harassed by the police since morning because we were crowding but they don’t understand. No one provided us with food or water, either at the station or in the train. I had a packet of biscuits since we reached here. We were told to go for a health check-up near the Kalupur fruit market at around 9 am where we went and then walked back to the station. At the station, thermal screening was done.”
Despite repeated calls, the Kalupur police inspector did not respond .
VK Pipaliya, mamlatdar of Maninagar area, said that during the journey covering nearly 3,000 kilometres on train, passengers are given food and water.
“We have provided each of our passengers with 500 grams of dry chivda and two litres of water bottles for the journey. We arranged a commute by bus up to the station for the 16 who were listed for their journey (from Maninagar taluka),” Pipaliya said. Morsalim denied this, saying they were not provided with any food until 6 p.m., when they were served with bread and potato curry on the train, when this paper contacted him a second time.
The officer in charge of Dani Limda area, specifically within Maninagar taluka, R M Patel said, “Those from containment areas are anyway not considered in the list. We have seen cases where people fake their addresses.For example someone may be residing at Dani Limda but may put their addresses at Vastrapur.” Patel however reiterated what Piplaiya said — only 16 people from the area, most residing at Narol and Isanpur, were dropped via bus at the station. “We wouldn’t know who walked and who didn’t.”
Patel, however, said that some trains like the one headed to Odisha have been cancelled in the past few days as the target of 1,600 passengers could not be met.
“Given that work has started and these workers are back on the pay cycle, why would they wish to go back now? They have everything they want here now. We (state governments) are even paying the fare” he added.
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