Rajat Sharma

Sending back migrant workers by trains will defeat the very purpose of lockdown

AKB2610An avoidable drama was enacted in Bandra, Mumbai on Tuesday noon, when nearly 1,500 migrant workers, mostly from Bengal, assembled near the Jama Masjid close to Bandra railway station. Most of the workers said they had learnt through WhatsApp messages that special trains will run to transport them back to their home state. Some workers said, they were told on WhatsApp to assemble near the Jama Masjid, where food will be distributed. So, it was the rumour factory which was at work soon after the Prime Minister finished his address to the nation.

An ex-AIMIM MLA Waris Pathan started a live videocast on Twitter to show how these migrant workers were demanding that they should be sent back to their homes. Soon, the local Congress leader Baba Siddique and a councillor Rehbar Khan reached the mosque and virtually pleaded with the workers to go back to their homes as the lockdown had been extended till May 3.

The most surprising part was that none of the workers had baggages with them. India TV reporters, who rushed to the spot, revealed that most of the workers hailed from Malda, West Bengal. Normally, long distance trains from Mumbai originate from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Kurla or Dadar, but none from Bandra. The entire drama appeared to be fishy.

The Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray and told him that the very purpose of lockdown will be defeated if special trains are run. The Home Secretary also spoke to the state chief secretary and DGP, and finally the police had to resort to lathicharge to disperse the crowd.

Soon thereafter, politicians joined the drama. The chief minister’s son Aditya Thackeray criticized the Centre and demanded that the migrant workers be allowed to go to their homes.

I spoke to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. He said, the Railways are already losing crores of rupees daily because of cancellation of train services due to lockdown, but there was no other alternative. He said, a single worker infected with Coronavirus, could spread it among most of the workers sitting inside a crowded railway coach. Even if the workers get off at their destinations, they would be acting as super spreaders of the virus in their hometowns and villages, where doctors and health services hardly exist. The government cannot play with the lives of thousands of people by running special trains.

There is not an iota of doubt that there were instigators behind the rumour factory that brought these migrant workers to Bandra. These instigators thrive on people’s mistrust about the state machinery. This mistrust towards the system has accumulated in the minds of common people over the last seven decades. Even if the Centre and state governments feed lakhs of labourers daily, this sense of mistrust gets support when baseless rumours do the rounds on social media.

This is not the time to indulge in petty politics too. Both the Centre and state governments will have to unitedly enforce the lockdown and ensure that the poor workers get regular meals. These are extraordinarily difficult times. On one hand, the governments are fighting the ever spreading Coronavirus in hospitals, isolation wards and quarantine centres, and on the other hand, they have to quell baseless rumours and feed millions of people. This is a gargantuan task.

Come what may, the lockdown has to succeed in India. Only then can people breathe a sigh of relief and normalcy in industries and businesses will be restored.

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