Despite the Karnataka government attempting to close down one of Bengaluru’s biggest camps sheltering nearly 6,000 migrant workers since May 4 by putting them on trains to their home states or convincing them to return to their workplaces, groups of migrant workers continue to arrive at the camp.
The number of workers at the camp at the Bengaluru International Exhibition Centre – a sprawling convention facility converted into an emergency camp for migrant workers on May 4 after large numbers of migrant workers began thronging railway stations in Bengaluru in the hope of catching trains home – has dwindled but workers continue to arrive at the centre.
On Wednesday afternoon, the highway leading to the BIEC was dotted with small groups of migrant workers carrying their luggage and waiting in the shade of an under-construction metro line after being turned away from the BIEC by policemen.
“We are waiting here hoping they will let us in around sunset. Two days ago, some of our friends who were not allowed into the camp were allowed in the evening and they boarded a train to Bihar yesterday. We are hopeful we will get in too,” said Mukesh Singh, 46, a mason from Bihar, sitting with his luggage along with a dozen others beside the highway.
Ever since it started, the camp at the BIEC, located 35 km outside Bengaluru, has served as a centre for accommodating migrant workers trudging long distances on the highways around Bengaluru to get home, and has also in recent days attracted migrant workers after news spread that those at the BIEC camp have a better chance at catching trains for their home states.
“I want to go to Jharkhand. We have quit our jobs. My mother is unwell and I need to get into the camp to catch a train. The police have shooed us away saying the camp is no longer operational. We cannot go back to our manager – he has told us not to come back,” said Sai Narang, 26, a tailor at a garment factory in Bengaluru for the last three years, as he trudged away from the BIEC on Wednesday afternoon after being turned away.
Two youths from Madhya Pradesh who heard of a train leaving in the early evening for Gwalior tried to convince policemen to facilitate their travel by waving application forms that they had filled up on a government portal for availing free train services. They, too, were hustled away by policemen, saying “no one can enter the camp with an official clearance”.
“We have been going to the police every day for the last 10 days with our applications but there has been no call for travel as yet. We live right beside the railway station that is being used to transport migrants but we are unable to get a train,” said Ram Singh, a migrant worker from UP, outside the Chikabannavara railway station used for putting migrants on trains.
Police and state authorities have managed to reduce the crowds at the BIEC migrant camp from a peak of around 6,000 five days ago to around 1000 Wednesday by putting workers from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand, who were in large numbers, on trains, police officials said.
“There are only around 650 from West Bengal and Assam. Many of those who were at the camp have returned to their work places and others have been accomodated on trains. At present, trains are not going to Bengal on account of the cyclone. The workers from Assam were employed in Hassan and they have quit their jobs,” said the Inspector General of Police for the Cental Range K V Sharath Chandra under whose jurisdiction the BIEC falls.
On Wednesday, even as migrant workers waited around the road leading to the BIEC in the hope of being accommodated on buses ferrying inmates of the camp to railway stations, the police began removing their temporary security arrangements at the entrance of the BIEC.
“Many of the migrants have been transported to their places of work and told to await restoration of normal train services if they want to return home. The last few days were tense as many were getting restive in the camp,” a local police official said.
“There are only a handful from states like UP, Bihar and Jharkhand and so there will no longer be arrangements made at BIEC for their travel back home,” the police official said.
On Wednesday, as many as four Shramik Special trains were operated from the Chikabannavara railway station – located barely five km away from the BIEC – to UP, Jharkhand and MP. Passengers for the train were chosen from the BIEC camp and from among those who had approached the police in Bengaluru, Mangaluru, Chikamagaluru and Kolar districts.
“My mother called to say she was unwell and may not live long. I was planning to wait for the current rush for trains to reduce to go home but the call changed my mind. I approached my contractor and he helped me contact the Yelahanka police yesterday and I received a message of being chosen to travel to UP today,” said Ilyas Ahmed, 42, a painter who hails from Kushinagara and has been working in Bengaluru for over 10 years.
“My contractor paid me Rs 10,000 of my Rs 20,000 dues and I bought a train ticket for Rs 1,050 and will use the rest for my family,” said Ilyas, the only breadwinner at his home.
Among the lucky ones to find places on Shramik Special trains leaving Bengaluru on Wednesday was also Chotu Singh, 27, a drill machine operator for road construction work in Mangaluru, hailing from Satna in Madhya Pradesh.
“With the help of my contractor and the local police in the BC Road area of Mangalore, our travel was arranged. We paid Rs 400 for the bus transport from Mangalore but the train fare has been waived since the MP government has paid for it. I am worried about the travel from Gwalior to Satna because I have little money. We have not been paid since March as all work has stopped,” Chotu Singh said.
“Most of us will return when things will be back to normal because we are poor people and there is no means to earn like here,” said the drill machine operator who has been working on road projects in Karnataka since 2013.
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