Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the nationwide lockdown till May 3, a large number of migrant labourers came out on road in Mumbai’s Bandra demanding transportation arrangements to go to their native places.
At around 3 pm Tuesday, migrant workers from nearby settlements gathered at suburban Bandra (West) bus depot near the railway station demanding ration.
“When food was being distributed one group said they did not want food but wanted to go home,” Joint commissioner of police (law and order) Vinay Kumar Choubey said. Additional CP Manoj Kumar Sharma, west region, said many refused the ration, demanding instead that arrangements be made for them to return home.
The crowd was later dispersed following the deployment of extra force to contain the situation. “Since a huge crowd had gathered we called extra force and the crowd was dispersed. They went back to their residences near the railway station,” Choubey said.
Taking stock of the situation, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appealed to migrants to stay where they are. “Nobody wants that you stay in lockup without your will. Lockdown doesn’t mean lockup. It is our country. You are safe in my state, don’t worry. The day when lockdown will be lifted, not only me, but Centre also will make arrangements for you,” he said.
CM Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray addressing the State https://t.co/vkTgkJqohP
— CMO Maharashtra (@CMOMaharashtra) April 11, 2020
Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray sought accountability from the Centre on the issue of stranded daily-wage labourers, who are rendered unemployed and homeless in the wake of the lockdown.
The current situation at Bandra Station, now dispersed or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the Union Govt not being able to take a call on arranging a way back home for migrant labour. They don’t want food or shelter, they want to go back home
— Aaditya Thackeray (@AUThackeray) April 14, 2020
“The current situation at Bandra Station, now dispersed or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the Union Govt not being able to take a call on arranging a way back home for migrant labour. They don’t want food or shelter, they want to go back home,” Thackeray said.
Opposition leader and former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis urged the Maharashtra government to take immediate measures to address the concerns of migrants who have taken to streets in anger and protest.
“The images of thousands of helpless migrants pouring out on the streets of Bandra should be a cause for alarm. It should be a wake-up call for the state government. As the Opposition party we have been repeatedly pointing to the government to initiate concrete measures to reach out to unorganised workers and migrants who are facing hardships in the city,” Fadnavis said.
Apprehensive over the lockdown extensions, migrant labourers in Surat blocked roads and resorted to arson last week. The workers were demanding that necessary arrangements be made for them to return to their native places and are also seeking quick disbursal of unpaid dues.
“The law and order situation in Surat, Gujarat, largely has been seen as a similar situation and the feedback from all migrant labour camps is similar. Many are refusing to eat or stay in. Currently more than 6 lakh people are housed in various shelter camps across Maha,” Thackeray tweeted.
The death toll due to COVID-19 has risen to 353 while the number of confirmed cases across the country neared the 11,000 mark. Maharashtra continues to be the worst-affected state, accounting for almost half the total COVID-19 deaths in the country.
Uncertain over their future in locked down cities, caravans of migrant labourers have been walking hundreds of kilometres along highways and across shuttered cities, running out of food amid the nationwide disruption in supply chains since the 21-day COVID-19 lockdown the Prime Minister announced on March 24.
As the states scrambled to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, the Centre had asked state governments and Union Territory administrations to effectively seal borders to stop the movement of migrant workers and also directed them to be put in mandatory 14-day quarantine for violating the lockdown.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines