Nearly 1,200 labourers Saturday left for Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, from Bhiwandi aboard the Shramik Special train — the first such train to leave Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), and the third in the state, to take migrants stranded in the state during the nationwide lockdown back to their home states.
On Friday, a seven-coach train, carrying 323 people, had left from Nashik Road railway station for Bhopal, Madhya Pardesh. Around 10 am Saturday, a second train, carrying 845 migrant labourers, had departed from the station for Lucknow.
Thousands of migrant workers had made a dash to Bhiwandi station Saturday to board the special train — to be filled on a first-come-first-serve basis — after police made announcement. Most purchased tickets on borrowed money and waited patiently with their luggage in the afternoon sun before they could board the train. With a capacity to accommodate just 1,200, hundreds of workers, however, had to return disheartened.
As per state estimates, more than 2.5 lakh migrant labourers are employed in different power looms across Bhiwandi.
Police officials said around 10 am Saturday they were informed that a train had been sanctioned to carry stranded workers to Gorakhpur. Police were tasked to zero in on 1,200 workers, who would be allowed to board the train on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Officials said, messages were sent to local leaders and gram panchayat members, who were, in turn, asked to prepare a list of migrant workers from Gorakhpur in their areas.
Deputy Commissioner of Police, Rajkumar Shinde, said, “We also sent our police vehicle to make announcements on roads, urging workers from Gorakhpur to come with their Aadhaar cards on six designated grounds. Simultaneously, we also set up 25 teams across six police station.”
The preparedness at Bhiwandi rail station, sources said, was in stark contrast to Nashik Road railway station where workers were brought in buses two hours ahead of the scheduled departure of the first special train for migrants Friday.
While police had asked people to assemble at 3 pm at designated spots, under six different police stations, with Aadhaar cards — to verify Gorakhpur as their permanent residential address — migrants had began arriving minutes after the announcement. By 1 pm, the Station Road at Anjurphata, closest to Bhiwandi Road Station under Narpoli police station, was swarming with migrants.
“We had to turn away several people. More trains will be run for those left out,” said Nitin Kousadikar, Divisional Assistant Commissioner of Police.
The 1,200 people accommodated on the 24-coach train for Gorakhpur were selected from police stations of Narpoli (422), Bhiwandi City (395), Bhoiwada (211), Kongao (105) and Shanti Nagar (67). The list was then sent to the district magistrate of Gorakhpur for his approval, following which the process was started, police said.
Jakir Ali Ansari (33), who managed to board the train Saturday, said, “I walked as fast as I could to reach Vithalnagar to borrow Rs 1,000 from my bother for the ticket fare and then he dropped me to the station.” Ansari, who worked at a power loom in Bhiwandi, about seven km away from the station, said he felt “lucky” to have been selected after waiting for two hours under the sun. “I paid Rs 800 for the ticket to Gorakhpur and still have Rs 200 left on me.”
According to officials, the first 422 people to reach Anjurphata were divided into 17 groups of 25 each, a practise followed at other five police stations as well. Each group had one worker among them nominated as a group leader, who was tasked to collect Rs 800, the ticket fare, from each member. The verification was followed by a thermal screening where a municipal official checked their temperature and jotted their name on a paper issuing them medical fitness certificates, while the workers remained seated on the road or open grounds in queues.
Thirty-six-year old Laxman Gawd, who led his team of 25, all of whom hail from the same village in Gorakhpur, said he had shelled out money from his own pocket to pay for those who could not afford the sum. “My family had sent me Rs 2,000 two days ago. It came in handy and I could pay my fare and that if a fellow worker as well,” Gawd said.
The 33-year-old said he had not believed the police announcement when he had first heard it first. “I asked a policeman and he confirmed. Only then, I packed whatever I could and rushed to the station,” Gawd said, adding that only time will tell if he would return to the city.
Around 9.30 pm, about six hours after they first assembled, the migrants began boarding the special train that finally chugged out of the station in the darkness of the night for home.
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