Thousands of migrant workers gathered outside Mumbai’s Bandra station on Tuesday to protest against the extended nationwide lockdown, PTI reported. They demanded transportation arrangements to go back to their hometowns.
“Many of them had bought tickets to Bihar and other places, hoping the lockdown would be lifted,” said Asif Zakaria, one of the municipal corporators in the Bandra area. “They are daily wage earners and are desperate to get home since they don’t have work any more.”
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the ongoing nationwide lockdown till May 3, which started on March 25. However, he did not announce an economic revival plan or package for the migrant workers despite repeated requests from state chief ministers for urgent measures that could help them weather the crisis.
The lockdown has left the workers stranded in several states, with no money, little food and even fewer options of leaving the places in which they are living.
The Mumbai police said that around 1,000 workers assembled at the bus depot near the railway station around 3 pm. “They have run out of money and want the security of their home villages,” said Zeeshan Siddiqui, a Member of the Legislative Assembly who was at the scene.
The police had to use batons to disperse them, according to NDTV. By 6.30 pm, at least a dozen police vehicles and scores of police personnel had been deployed at the site.
Mumbai Police spokesperson and Deputy Commissioner of Police Pranaya Ashok told ANI that the labourers were unhappy with the extension of the lockdown. “Local Police officials went to the spot, talked to them and tried to convince them,” he added. “During this, a section of the crowd turned violent so light force had to be used to bring them under control. Crowd was dispersed. Police is deployed there. Situation is normal and peaceful.”
A similar situation was reported in Mumbra, in neighbouring Thane district. Details are awaited. A video emerged showing crowds running through a street.
Last week, hundreds of migrant workers in Gujarat’s Surat city were also out on roads demanding salaries and transportation arrangements to go back to their hometowns over fears of extension of the 21-day lockdown.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the incident in Bandra was “unfortunate” and assured the workers that they are safe in the state, ANI reported. “It might have happened because they thought that trains will start from April 14 and so they would be able to go back to their villages,” he added.
“Nobody wants that you stay in lockup without your will,” Thackeray added. “Lockdown doesn’t mean lockup. It is our country. You’re safe in my state and don’t worry. The day when lockdown will be lifted, not only me, but the Centre also will make arrangements for you.”
Union Home Minister Amit Shah called the Maharashtra chief minister after the incident and expressed concern. He reportedly said that such events weaken India’s fight against the coronavirus and that the administration needs to stay vigilant.
Maharashtra minister and Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray blamed the Narendra Modi government for the crisis. “The current situation at Bandra Station, now dispersed, or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the Union government not being able to take a call on arranging a way back home for migrant labour,” he said in a tweet. “They don’t want food or shelter, they want to go back home.”
Thackeray said the state government had also requested the Centre to allow the trains to operate for 24 hours to ensure the workers reach their native places. “Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray ji raised this issue in the prime minister-chief minister video conference as well requesting a roadmap for migrant labour to reach home.”
However, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis blamed the state government for failing to control the situation. “State government failed in making arrangements for labourers,” he added. “That is why we had to face such embarrassing situation today that labourers in huge number came and said that either provide us food or let us go home – that too in Bandra, under the nose of the government.”
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said the situation in Bandra was under control, adding that the state government will ensure food and accommodation for the migrant workers. He also said that the workers might have expected that Modi would order reopening of the state borders.
“Lakhs of workers from other states work in Mumbai,” Deshmukh said. “They expected that the prime minister would open the state borders today. They felt they could go to their home states.”
The home minister said that the state borders would remain sealed. “But the prime minister and chief minister took a very good decision to extend the lockdown,” Deshmukh added. “Permission will not be given to go to other states from Maharashtra.”