Since the Shramik special trains started on May 1, over 325 trains have ferried over five lakh migrant workers from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. But from Mumbai alone, nearly 3.5 lakh migrants have registered their names for a seat on one of these trains. As their wait grows and frustration mounts, they are gathering in large numbers every day outside stations from where these trains depart, hoping to clamber on one of them somehow.
On May 19, around 3,000 people converged on Bandra Terminus to board a train for Bihar, which could carry only 1,300 people. The police lathicharged the crowd to disperse it. A near similar situation arose at CSMT on Wednesday when people flocked to the station to board six trains.
According to protocol, only migrants whose names are registered and who have received calls from police stations in their areas, confirming that they have been allotted seats, should reach the station to board the trains. But hundreds, and even thousands, mill around the stations on the chance that they will be able to clamber on to the trains.
As per Mumbai Police, over six lakh migrant workers have so far registered with it to be allowed to go back home, and some 2.5 lakh among them have managed to get on the trains. This massive backlog of over three lakh migrants, who have been forced to wait, has led to frustration and resentment.
“A friend who did not have his name registered boarded a train,” said 32-year-old Tanveer Alam, recalling the chaotic scene at Bandra Terminus on May 19. His friend managed to slip in through the crowds, and get on the train to his hometown in Bihar. The next day, Alam decided to try his luck again, and walked 13 km from Dharavi to CSMT station to get a seat on another train to Bihar — though he had not received that phone call confirming him as a passenger on the train.
“When your patience ends, there is little left other than taking a risk,” he said.
Officials said the number of trains have been increased from three to four a day to about 30. Spokesperson for Mumbai Police, Pranay Ashok, said: “We now run about 30 trains per day and are working to increase the number to about 40 to 50 trains per day.” He added that an average of 10,000 applications are received every day. Officials added that they are gearing up to run 600 Shramik trains over the next one week from across Maharashtra.
But these numbers are of little solace for workers like Firoz Alam, who have been waiting for over 15 days for their turn. Dejected at not being able to board a train at CSMT, Alam decided to try out bus depots in Thane, Navi Mumbai or Ghatkopar, to see if he could get a bus that the state transport (ST) department was running free of cost to drop migrant workers at the Maharashtra border.
With his 10-year-old son, Alam, whose village is in Bihar, rented a pick-up truck to be dropped to Thane.
“The ST bus took only 50 people who had waited all day, and we were among the 15 who were turned away. We slept on the footpath at night and returned the next day to CSMT. I spent close to Rs 1,000 just going between stations and bus depots, all in vain,” said Alam, who had filled up a form for boarding a train with Nagpada police in the first week of May.
On Wednesday morning, he queued up outside the local office of Samajwadi Party in Madanpura to fill another form, hoping that what he could not get from the police, a politician might be able to arrange.
With the people gathering at the stations only growing, Home Minister Anil Deshmukh on Wednesday appealed to workers to not come until called by the police.
The appeal made no sense to Shamsheer Khan (22), who had come to CSMT with his family of five to board a Lucknow-bound train without confirmed seats. “Even after 15 days, there is little clarity on our application. We have no work and food, how will we survive?” asked Khan, who was asked to vacate his rented house by his landlord.
Tired of waiting for a call from police, Nazeer Haq has been coming at CSMT station for the last three days. “I was told that they cancelled a train to Bihar, as they didn’t have enough people. I come here just in case they need more people someday.”
Back at CSMT station, as Alam was asked to return, he said: “Ye government hamari majboori ko hamari bewakoofi samajhti hai.”
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