In a glaring instance of mismanagement by local police and state government authorities who are coordinating inter-state migrant transport, hundreds of migrant workers from West Bengal, currently working in Pune rural, were ferried to the railway station on Saturday morning and then left to fend for themselves as there was no space in the train headed to Bengal.
While 1,548 of them were accommodated in the train, which left for West Bengal on Saturday afternoon, there was no space for the remaining 400 workers. Nearly 200 others, desperate to go back to Bengal, had reached the station on their own.
The migrants – most of them youngsters working in rural areas of the district – flashed the tokens allotted to them by police personnel on Saturday morning. They had one anguished query: “Of what use are these tokens if they couldn’t secure us space in the train?”
Most of them complained that since they worked in rural parts of the district – which is not a ‘red zone’ – their employers and house-owners will not let them return to their work sites and accommodations. “We will have to stay here on the road until we can leave for home,” said Sujan Das, a migrant who worked at a construction site on the premises of Army Law College in Kanhe, about 30 km from Pune.
Many of them said that before they left for the railway station in buses arranged by local authorities, they repeatedly asked if there were confirmed seats for them in the train as they won’t be allowed to return to their accommodation or work sites after a visit to Pune, which is a ‘red zone’ due to high number of coronavirus cases.
“Two days ago, the police had brought us to Pune station in a similar fashion. We queued up for several hours, but were later told that the train was full. They dropped us back to Talegaon station, from where we walked for three hours to Kanhe, a distance of about 11 km. When I received a call from them on Saturday morning, I asked repeatedly if a train seat was 100 per cent confirmed. The police told us they will ensure that we get in the train and they will leave the premises only after we are seated. We were brought here and queued up, but after a few hours, they stopped taking in persons. They said the train was full,” said Vijay Das, who hails from Nadia district in Bengal.
When he asked the policemen what he and the other workers were supposed to do as the train had left without
them, Das said the police personnel started abusing and beating them.
Amjad Ul Haq, who works as a cook, said he called up the room-owner in his chawl but was told that he need not return. “He said, ‘stay there or go home… don’t come back now’… we are in a big fix now,” said Haque.
Authorities with Central Railway’s Pune Division said the Pune-Howrah Shramik Special train left the station at 4 pm with 1,548 passengers, and there was no other train scheduled for West Bengal on Saturday.
Railway authorities said they were not aware of the presence of nearly 600 migrants workers, who remained queued up for over five hours after the train they were supposed to board had left.
Sub-Divisional Officer Subhash Bhagade, who is co-ordinating the inter-state transportation of migrants, conceded that “300 extra workers” were brought to Pune station to catch a train to train. He said that on Sunday, they will ascertain if there are enough migrants from Bengal who are willing to go home, and whether a special train should be run.
“If there are about 1,000 workers, we will place a demand and ply a train for them,” said Bhagade.
He said the migrants shouldn’t have been left out on the road and the same buses which had brought them to station should have dropped them back.
Pune District Collector Naval Kishore Ram said authorities are planning to run a train for these migrants by co-ordinating with Ahmednagar district authorities, where about 500-600 migrant workers from Bengal are stranded.
Most of the workers were uncertain of what’s going to happen next, and continued to stay in the queue till 10 pm. Many of them were furious.
“The Supreme Court has said the government should make arrangements to take us home safely and quickly. If this is what happens to us, then what’s the point of Supreme Court’s order?… We came here because of some compulsions to earn money. My father passed away a few months ago and my mother is dependent on me. She has been crying continuously for two days and I am desperate to go back,” said Pintoo, one of the workers.
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