A special train carrying stranded migrants was flagged off from Thivim railway station late Sunday. The second Shramik Express from Goa, with 1,055 Jammu and Kashmir residents, was headed to Udhampur.
The passengers were mostly handicraft and carpet traders, many of them accompanied by their families.
Gulzar Sheikh (30) and Showkat Ahmed (34) were part of a group of “22 brothers” from the same neighbourhood. “We come to Goa for six months every year. The state has given us wonderful memories, and we are grateful for the way the administration is ensuring a safe journey for us,” said Sheikh.
Ahmed spoke of how their “Goan landlords” waived one month’s rent. “We hope that whatever this is will end soon and we can return for the next season,” he added.
Marouf Ahmed (31) recalled helping his local neighbours when their stocks got depleted in the initial days of the lockdown. “They are friends. We have been coming here for 15 years. Bonds are built,” he said.
Bashir Bhat (38), travelling with his wife and son, was upset that he was returning after having done “no business”. Bhat and his family, like the others, arrive in Goa every November and return in April. “This time we are returning with a very heavy heart,” he said.
Shaukat Ahmed (47) said, “Things have been different this year. But we are happy to be returning to our families.” He added that staying in Goa will now be very expensive as the tourists have gone.
Mohamed Shahid (27), who sells jewellery and expensive handicrafts, stocked his wares in bank lockers before boarding the train. “We are regular traders in Goa and have good relations with Goans. There is trust. We have kept our belongings with a few people, and our crafts locked in bank lockers.”
The return exercise was coordinated by the Goa administration, including the North Goa Collectorate and Goa Police.
North Goa Collector R Menaka said, “The exercise involved officials calling the association representatives, with those wanting to return registering their details with the Jammu and Kashmir government. Since yesterday, we called and asked them to reach our staging area, and then ensured they were brought systematically to board the train.”
Two hundred personnel of Goa Police were deployed to ensure coordination with RPF and Konkan Railway, making sure all arrangements were in place until the passengers took the seats, with social distancing measures implemented.
IAS officer Kunal, the nodal officer for the entire exercise, said, “More such trains are in the pipeline. We are ensuring they are used prudently to send people home. For now, 80,000 people have registered with us from various states.”
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