The Karnataka government on Thursday said it will resume special train services for migrant workers trapped in the state amid the countrywide lockdown, a day after the decision to scrap them sparked widespread criticism, The Indian Express reported. However, disillusioned by the government, many of them have begun walking back to their hometowns.
Chandrabhushan Sahani, 24, told the newspaper he started walking from Hebbal in Bengaluru with just Rs 300 in his pocket and 90% phone battery, hoping it would last him on a journey of 2,100 km. The construction worker took the NH-44 highway on Thursday afternoon to reach his hometown in Siddharth Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh.
Sahani is a part of 23 other workers from the construction site all of whom hail from the same or surrounding districts.“We will reach Hyderabad, and then somehow if they let us cross the state border, we will keep going,” he said. “I need to keep speaking to my mother and wife at home. I am worried about running out of charge. So I am using it sparingly.”
The Karnataka government had cancelled trains on Tuesday after Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa met prominent builders and real estate firms who reportedly expressed concern over the mass exodus of labourers.
However, after reversing its decision on Thursday, the state revenue secretary wrote to the governments of other states, asking them to prepare for the arrival of migrant workers.“Once the train schedules are fixed, then workers will be brought from construction sites to the place of departure of trains, Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar told the newspaper. “They will be taken to railway stations and will be put on trains going to their states.”
An unidentified government official said that train services are likely to resume in “a day or two”. “Logistical decisions have to be taken as to who should be accommodated on the trains and where they should be allowed to board the train in order to prevent chaos,” the official said. “It is going to be done discreetly and all those who want to go will be allowed to go.”
Many migrant workers like Sahani told The Indian Express that they are unwilling to wait for the trains to start. “There is nothing for us here,” Sahani said. “We have not been getting food, nor money. Bahut pareshani hai. Yahan ka sarkar humari sunti nahi hai. (There is a lot of distress here. The government here does not listen to us.)”
The lockdown, imposed initially on March 24 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, has been extended two times since – first to May 3 and now to May 17. Struggling to make ends meet amid the lockdown, lakhs of migrant workers have demanded permission to go back to their hometowns. Many have attempted to travel home on foot, but have been stopped due to the closure of state borders. Some have died on the way.
The Centre has started operating special trains to move migrant workers, pilgrims and students stranded in various states. Lakhs of migrant workers have registered to return to their homes. The first special train carrying 1,200 migrants left from Telangana for Hatia in Jharkhand the same day.