The Mumbai Police on Wednesday arrested Vinay Dubey, a self-proclaimed labour leader who had threatened a mass protest by migrants in the city on April 18, ANI reported. They also filed a first information report against him and Dubey was subsequently remanded to police custody till April 21.
Another FIR was filed against ABP correspondent Rahul Kulkarni for claiming that Railways would restart operations and he was arrested later in the day. The police suspect the journalist’s claim may have prompted the migrants’ gathering at Bandra station.
The arrest of Kulkarni, who works with the Marathi news channel, was announced by Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. “Police arrested journalist Rahul Kulkarni for giving news report, due to which rumour was spread,” Deshmukh said in a tweet.
Deshmukh also said the misinformation about commencement of train services was spread using 11 different methods. “The accounts have been tracked, FIRs are being filed and due legal consequences will follow,” he added.
He said that the state government has zero tolerance for rumours.
Over 1,000 migrant labourers gathered outside Bandra West station in Mumbai on Tuesday evening, believing they could travel home by train. The police uses batons to disperse them. 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.
The third FIR was filed against the crowd that gathered at the railway station.
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the lockdown imposed in the country to combat the coronavirus till May 3. The total number of cases in the country stood at 11,439 on Wednesday morning, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Of these, Maharashtra accounts for the maximum number of infections. Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope had said on Tuesday evening that 2,684 people have so far been found infected in the state.
The police had detained Dubey late on Tuesday, two days after he posted a video on Facebook warning that the workers would start walking back home to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar if they were not provided any means of transport. In the video, posted on April 12, Dubey criticised Modi for imposing a lockdown without any advance notice. He alleged that migrant labourers were penniless and have nothing to eat.
“I had arranged 40 buses to take these migrants back to their home states,” Dubey said in the video. “I had asked all state governments for permission to run the buses. However, no permission has been provided yet.” Dubey appealed to Modi to allow long distance trains to run for a few days after the lockdown period was supposed to end on April 14, for migrant workers to return home. Dubey claimed that the workers would die of starvation if they did not die of coronavirus in their place of work.
Dubey then issued a warning to the governments and the police. “We will wait till April 14 or 15,” he said. “If no concrete steps are taken [to help migrant labourers], I, Vinay Dubey, will begin a journey on foot along with the migrant workers stuck in Mumbai. We will begin our journey around April 20...it is okay even if you put us in jail.”
Dubey said the workers could be tested for coronavirus or quarantined when they reach their villages. “If the central and state governments do not take this seriously, there will be a protest nobody will be able to stop,” he added. Dubey also provided his phone number to labourers who wanted to walk to their home towns in Uttar Pradesh.
No special trains being run: Railway ministry
The Ministry of Railways said late on Tuesday that there is no plan to run special trains to clear the rush of passengers. “It is clarified that all Passenger train services are fully cancelled, across the nation, till 3rd May 2020 and there is no plan to run any special train to clear the passenger rush,” the ministry tweeted. “All concerned may please take note of the same and help us in resisting any wrong news in this regard.”
The ministry’s clarification came after a report by ABP News on Tuesday\ claimed that the Centre had decided to run special trains for stranded migrants. The news network, in its report, attached a screenshot of a copy of a letter written by Deputy Chief Commercial Manager (Passenger Marketing) A Malleswara Rao to the senior divisional commercial manager of South Central Railway on Monday. In the letter, Rao said that during a video conference on Monday, it was decided to run “Janasadharan specials to clear stranded passengers/migrant labour of unreserved segment”.
Rao added that all senior divisional commercial managers should “analyse the number of stranded passengers as well as migrant labour and submit the detailed proposal along with clear origin and destination stations”, so that this proposal could be discussed. However, this letter was written on Monday, a day before Modi announced the extension of the lockdown.
The same ABP News report, however, pointed out that South Central Railway had denied that it planned to start special trains. The report said the letter was meant for internal communication in the Railways but somehow turned up on social media. South Central Railway also tweeted confirming that the letter was meant for internal communication. North Central Railway issued a similar clarification.