The first batch of 1,140 migrant workers from Odisha, who were living and working in Ernakulam district of Kerala, boarded a special train arranged by the Railways to take them home. The non-stop train destined for Bhubaneswar left from Aluva railway station at 10 pm on Friday.
V S Sunil Kumar, minister in-charge of the district, said that Railways informed them about the plan to run the train. A helpdesk jointly run by police, revenue and health departments began registration of the migrants at several camps early Friday.
G Venu, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Ernakulam Rural, said the migrants who wanted to go home were chosen on first come-first serve basis, though priority was given to women, children and elderly people. As soon as news of the train flashed on local news channels, long queues formed in areas like Perumbavoor, a hub of migrant workers.
The workers were screened for symptoms of cough, cold, headache and fever. Those who passed were given certificates testifying that they were medically fit.
The officer said that those who could not get into the first batch were assured that there would be more trains in the coming days. Migrant link workers, who had been chosen by the district administration to keep channels of communication open with the workers, continuously worked the phones to tell them in Odiya that they would be allowed to go home.
A heavy contingent of police officers was deployed at Aluva railway station to take stock of the measures. Volunteers packed bread, bananas and water to be distributed to the workers in the train.
By 7 pm, the first batch of workers were ferried to the station in state transport buses. The minister, district collector and top police officers welcomed them with food and checked their medical credentials.
A migrant link worker from Odisha said on a loudspeaker that only two workers should sit on each seat in the train. They must wear masks at all times and wash hands regularly. They were warned against pulling the emergency chain to stop the train.
“The state’s responsibility was to pick them up from their camps, register them using their identification cards, conduct medical check-ups, provide food for the 34-hour journey and ferry them to the station. We have done a systematic job. Railways informed us that workers have to buy tickets for the journey,” the minister said.
Railways is expected to arrange all medical facilities on the train. “We have sent all the details of the travellers to the Odisha government. They can take a decision on quarantining measures,” the minister added.
Milon Shaikh, a migrant link worker from West Bengal, said there is massive interest among the workers in going home. The control room in Ernakulam is receiving hundreds of calls every day for the same.