Rajat Sharma

Why thousands of migrant workers are still walking on foot along railway tracks

akb3010In a gruesome tragedy on Thursday morning, 16 migrant workers were crushed to death by a goods train at Karmad near Aurangabad, Maharashtra sending shock waves throughout the nation. The migrant workers, who used to work in a steel factory in Jalna, had decided to move on foot in a group of 21 to reach Bhusawal junction in Madhya Pradesh.

The victims, tired after walking along railway tracks for 38 km, sat on the railway tracks, had a frugal meal of rotis and chutney, and then dozed off. By the time, the goods train ran over them, only five of them could jump away to safety.

There were gory scenes on the spot with the bodies crushed to pieces, and food, currency notes and other belongings strewn around. The migrant workers had chosen to walk along the railway tracks in order to avoid police patrolling on highways. The survivors said, they had tried get railway tickets in Jalna to go to MP, but had failed.

This tragedy has not stopped migration of thousands of workers on foot. India TV reporter noticed migrant workers walking in groups along the rail tracks near Thane on Thursday. Many of them were carrying children and their personal belongings. The workers, weary after trudging for hours, sat on the rail tracks, oblivious to the danger from goods trains.

I believe the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will surely help the families of those who died in this tragedy, but the problem of migrant workers has to be tackled on a massive scale. Much caution is needed.

So far, Indian Railways have run 222 special trains transporting nearly 2.5 lakh migrant workers to their native places, but there seems to be some serious communication gap in the entire process.

Migrant workers who have travelled in Shramik Special trains have been effusive in their praise for the railways. Many of these workers have told India TV that they were served tea and meals on time, and buses were deployed to take them to railway stations.

Railway officials say there is no dearth of trains. If the state governments want, nearly 10,000 trains can be deployed, but because of communication gap, the intended beneficiaries (migrant workers) are not aware about the process that have to follow to avail this facility. That is why thousands of migrant workers still walking on highways and along rail tracks, with their belongings and children, in the hope of reaching their native places.

India TV reporters spoke to migrant workers at several places. Three main points emerged. One, these workers do not have any clear cut information about running of trains, Two, they do not know from where the trains will originate. Three, they do not know which forms to fill, how much to pay, and whom to pay.

Many workers fear that they may be forced to remain in two weeks’ quarantine when they reach home and therefore, they have opted to sneak out on foot, to evade both police and quarantine.

Migrant workers are travelling on foot from Mumbai to places like Bhopal, Kolkata, Kutch (Gujarat). Many worker have opted use bicycles on their way to Lucknow, Patna and Bhagalpur.

India TV reporter Manish Bhattacharya met migrant workers walking along the railway tracks in Jaipur. These workers have come from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. They intend to travel 850 km on foot to reach Fatehpur in UP. Already these workers have covered 550 km on foot.

When asked, these workers said they had registered their names for special train, but got an sms asking them to wait for 10-15 days. These workers said, they had no money to pay either house rent or bus fare and their food stocks have dwindled. They have therefore opted to march on foot. Many of these workers knew about the Aurangabad tragedy, but said they would return home on foot rather than starve in cities.

Migrant workers are travelling on foot from faraway places like Ahmedabad, Mangaluru, Kathua, and Asansol, and there only aim is to reach their native villages. The maximum migration is from Maharashtra and Gujarat, the economic power houses that employ most of the migrant workers.

India TV reporter Nirnay Kapoor reported that so far, 4.25 lakh workers have been sent to their home states from Gujarat. 1.21 lakh workers were sent in 98 special trains to UP, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.

In Ahmedabad, the state government has set up a call center with a toll free number. A migrant worker has to ring up the number, get himself registered, a registration link is sent to him, and based on registration data, requests for special trains are sent. On an average, 20,000 workers are registering their names. There are more than 42 lakh migrant workers in Gujarat, and it has become difficult to cope up with the demands. The migrant workers are in no mood to wait.

There are sharks waiting to make a fast buck by fleecing these desperate migrant workers. Noida police have arrested two persons, who alongwith their gang leader Monu, took two buses to localities populated by migrant workers from Bihar. They first offered to take the workers for free, but when the workers came with their belongings, they charged Rs 3,000 each from the workers. When police reached the spot, the gang leader sneaked away with the money. His two assistants were nabbed.

In Moradabad, UP, a gang of robbers waylaid migrant workers walking from Bijnore towards Lucknow and robbed them of their cash. Local villagers intervened and one of the robbers was caught and thrashed. His associate fled with the looted cash.
But the bigger challenge is yet to come. In Haryana around one lakh migrant workers have applied online to return to work. These migrants were transported out of Haryana few days ago. As they got to know that the factories are reopening, they want to be back at work. Soon other states will also face this problem.

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