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Train for migrants cancelled at last minute, NGOs allege tactic to keep workers in Pune

Officials of the Labour department said their job was to “confirm and make sure that the workers really wanted to go”. Local activists and labour unions accused the district administration of trying to “hold back the migrants”.

By: Express News Service | Pune | Published: June 19, 2020 8:25:51 pm
Nearly 1,600 stranded migrant workers, who were hoping to board a train to their homes in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha on Friday evening, were left stranded in Pune. (Express file photo by Vishal Srivastav)

Nearly 1,600 stranded migrant workers, who were hoping to board a train to their homes in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha on Friday evening, were left stranded after the train was cancelled by the Pune district administration, citing the need for more “verification” of the workers by the Labour department. Local activists and labour unions, who had urged the government to operate the train to ferry the migrant workers home, accused the district administration of trying to “hold back the migrants”.

Officials of the Labour department said their job was to “confirm and make sure that the workers really wanted to go”. While the district administration said the decision was in accordance with a government directive issued on June 16, some workers alleged that this “double verification” process was part of attempts to keep them in Pune district, where industrial units have started reopening.

As reported by The Indian Express earlier, over 1.22 lakh stranded workers have left Pune district via Shramik Special trains since May 8, but hundreds of workers are still stranded here and are desperate to go home. A group of labour unions, activists and citizens’ groups had prepared a list of about 1,600 stranded workers in Talegaon, Kondhwa, Balajinagar, Chandannagar, Hinjewadi as well as Kolhapur, who wanted to go back to their homes in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha. These groups had cited the Supreme Court order of June 9, which directed state governments to make arrangements for the safe return of migrant workers to their homes.

The district administration had agreed to ply a Shramik Special train to Howrah in West Bengal at 3 pm on June 19. A letter regarding this was issued to the activists by Deputy Collector Subhash Bhagade, who is co-ordinating the return of stranded migrants from the district.

“We spent the last three days contacting migrant workers and informing them about the scheduled train. But suddenly, on Thursday, we received a call from Deputy Collector Bhagade about the train being cancelled, pending verification of lists by the Commissioner of Labour, Pune,” said Poornima Chikarmane of Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat (KKPKP), who is among the group of activists involved in the effort.

The last-minute cancellation left many labourers stranded, with nowhere to go.

“Many of them had informed their employers that they were leaving. A few had even left for Pune and were on their way to the station, when we called them up to tell them about the cancellation… in one case, 40 persons who worked in Nigdi had to leave the premises because they had already quit the work. They were later accommodated in a shelter. The decision by the district administration caused major trouble to the workers,” said Johanna Lokhande of National Centre for Advocacy Studies.

Dilip Tirki, a labourer who worked at a construction site in Magarpatta, said he and eight others had an argument with their employers to get permission to exit the site. “After we got the permission, we received a call saying the train has been cancelled. We are stuck here now and feel that the employers as well as the government doesn’t want us to go home, because there will be no one to do the work here,” said Tirki.

Bhagade, however, said the train has been “postponed” to ensure that the labourers were “verified” by the Labour department. “They have prepared a questionnaire that each of the labourer in the list given by us will be asked. Once that’s done, those who are willing to go will be sent home in a few days,” he said.

Deputy Commissioner of Labour (Pune) Abhay Gite said the aim of the exercise was to ensure that the persons in the list were actually “labourers” and “they really want to leave”. He also said some persons on the list of workers didn’t want to go back any longer.

“We are just ensuring that they really want to go and they actually are migrant workers, and not someone who hails from those states but is now based here. Among the persons whom we have called, we are coming across some who are now saying they don’t want to go because they have work here,” said Gite.

Chikarmane, however, said, “We fail to understand the rationale behind this double verification, which is only delaying the process. We told the district authorities that we suspect this is a tactic to hold back the migrants in Pune against their will to cope with the labour shortage, but they denied this.”

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