Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday called Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray after more than a thousand migrant workers in Mumbai gathered outside the station in Bandra, Mumbai, ANI reported.
The home minister expressed concern and said such events weakened India’s fight against coronavirus pandemic. Shah asked the administration to stay vigilant to avoid such incidents in future and also offered his full support to the Maharashtra government.
More than 1,000 migrant workers demanded transportation arrangements to go back to their hometowns, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the ongoing nationwide lockdown till May 3. The prime minister 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 police had to use batons to disperse them and the situation was brought under control. At least a dozen police vehicles and scores of police personnel had been deployed at the site. The police claimed that the workers dispersed after they were assured food and shelter by the administration.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, while addressing the state about the coronavirus pandemic, said the incident in Bandra was “unfortunate” and assured the workers that they are safe in the state. “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 does not mean lockup. It is our country. You are 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.”
Maharashtra minister and Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray blamed the Narendra Modi government for the situation. “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.”
Later, he said that the Centre has taken cognisance of the incident and was assisting the state government. “We understand the catch 22 situation the Centre and states face,” he tweeted. “I’m thankful to the prime minister and the home minister for understanding the situation, while trying to ensure the safety of home states of migrants.”
Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis attacked the Shiv Sena-led ruling alliance in the state for the crisis, ANI reported. “The incident of Bandra is very worrisome,” he added. “We were telling the govt from first day that they should make some arrangement for labourers who do not have ration cards. State government should take the responsibility of how they will provide food and ration to all.”
Fadnavis added that they had to face an “embarrassing situation” because the state government failed to make adequate arrangements. “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,” he said.
Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam claimed the incident in Bandra had to happen as migrant workers were not being provided food. “How long can they stay confined to their small houses,” he tweeted. “Government relief is just on paper. How many people can be given free food and for how long? Is there no other option?”
BJP leader Kirit Somaiya asked the Uddhav Thackeray government to explain how a thousand people gathered at Bandra despite prohibitory orders. Somaiya asked the chief minister to explain what intelligence agencies were doing and how a large number of people could gather when the police did not allow more than four people at one place. “How and why today,” he asked.
Somaiya also said Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh should “own” that it was a government-sponsored assembly.
BJP leader and former minister Ashish Shelar said the protest showed the failure of the ruling government in enforcing a lockdown, PTI reported.
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.”
The nation-wide lockdown has left migrant workers stranded in several states with no money, little food and no option of leaving the places where they are currently living.