After hordes of migrant labourers started emptying out from Rajkot city and nearby factories and took the National Highway 27 to return to their native places on foot, the Rajkot district administration deployed 50 buses late on Thursday evening to ferry them to their destination. The move comes amid suspension of road and railway services for passengers by the government in an effort to contain spread of the novel coronavirus.
A large group of labourers had assembled at Indira Circle around noon. The police had served them meal and Paresh Gajera, president of Rajkot Builders’ Association, tried to pacify them. The labourers, however, continued heading out of the city. Many others, from factories, construction sites, agricultural fields, etc., had also taken the same highway. By evening, hundreds of labourers had gathered at Maliyasan village, around 10 km east of the city on NH 27. Many other groups continued to walk and reached as far away as Kuvadva, around 18 km away from the city.
A sub-divisional magistrate and police officers tried to persuade the labourers to return to their places of work but to no avail. As the number kept on swelling and went past around 2,000, the Rajkot district administration deployed 50 buses of Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) to ferry them to their destination.
“These are the people who were stranded on the road and had no particular place or home to go. Some of them have come from Morbi and others other places. Buses have been deployed to ensure they are not stranded on the road without food and water. Many of them were extremely resistant to the idea of staying back. This arrangement It is only a one-day thing. This will not continue. It is being to prevent a law and order situation that may arise out of thousands of people gathering at one place,” Rajkot district collector Remya Mohan told The Indian Express.
The collector said her office had asked industrialists and other employers to take some of the labourers back and that she has called a meeting with industrialists to discuss the issue. “We had issued very strict instructions that not a single person should be allowed outside. They should take care of them. It is their responsibility,” Mohan further said.
She also said some labourers were adamant on returning home. “Many of the people we interviewed insisted on returning to their homes since factories were not running. They were also of the view that they will be more safer in their villages in these times of an epidemic. It is also a psychological aspect. They want to be with their families. It is very difficult situation,” said Mohan.
She said many labourers are natives of Dahod district in eastern Gujarat and some are from the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh district also. “Those who are from Dahod would be dropped there. We are in touch with the district administration there. The government (of the neighbouring state) will have to take the labourers from the border onwards,” the collector further added,
She said they were staggering people on the highway in order to avoid assembly of large groups at one place. “We are screening their health conditions before allowing them to board buses.” .
Yogesh Patel, Rajkot divisional controller of GSRTC said the buses would go till the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh state boarder. “We have orders to ferry people till that point. But we are afraid the number of people who want to return to their homes may overwhelm us,” said Patel.
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