Labourers in Mumbai defy coronavirus lockdown as desperation peaks

These workers had hoped to return home after lifting of the lockdown on April 15, but lost patience following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of an extension of the lockdown till May 3, on Tuesday.
Tossing social distancing concerns away, more than a thousand migrant labourers, mainly from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, converged outside Bandra West railway station in Mumbai, hoping to book train tickets home.

 
Surviving on food from charitable institutions and living in cramped houses, the distressed people swarmed the station at around 3 pm, without any plan in mind.

 
However, they were not ready to move from their sit-in, even after the authorities, police, and a local maulana pleaded repeatedly for them to return. Losing patience, someone threw a stone at a policeman deployed to cordon off the place. The police quickly retaliated with charges and the crowd dispersed two hours after they had gathered.

 
These workers had hoped to return home after lifting of the lockdown on April 15, but lost patience following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of an extension of the lockdown till May 3, on Tuesday.

Aaditya Thackeray, Minister of Tourism and Environment of Maharashtra, in a series of tweets squarely blamed this chaos on the lack of a road map by the Union government. More than 600,000 such people are taking shelter in Maharashtra alone, across various camps.

 
“We just want to go home,” said one worker to a TV channel. To begin with, the crowd at the nearby slum was more than usual.

“It was like a normal lockdown day in which ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) had brought food to be served between 12.30pm and 3 pm,” Tushar Aphale, Bandra zonal president of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, told Business Standard.

“Normally, about 1,000 people are served meals these days, and most of them come from nearby slums. Today there were 1,500-2,000,” said a senior police officer. “People gathered and refused to move for hours,” he added.

 
The police were initially patient. Several requests were made by the police via loudspeakers of the Bandra mosque.

 
The pleading by the authorities and maulana was done for nearly 45 minutes, but no one moved. The stalemate continued till 4.30 pm. Subsequently, police sources said that the mob started getting hostile and hence they resorted to baton charge. The Maharashtra government has also asked entities to trace the employers of migrants that had assembled at the station.

An investigation into the matter has started and it is being enquired if the workers were already employed, or had been laid off by the contractors. Police in Andheri sent text messages to contractors.

 
If the contractors are found to have left their employees in the lurch, the government will take them to the task. “The chief minister has ordered strict action against contractors. So, we are trying to trace them and see if the people got proper food and wages,” said a senior Maharashtra government official.

 


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