Several civil groups on Wednesday requested states to press idle transport vehicles, locked up in garages, to service during the coronavirus crisis, to bring migrant workers back to their hometowns. They also requested the states to run more interstate trains to prevent workers from remaining stuck in overcrowded dormitories and camps.
The signatories included organisations such as the All India Students’ Association, Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace (Ahmedabad), Delhi Construction Workers’ Union, IIT Bombay for Justice, and several regional chapters of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, among others.
“We appreciate the hard work put in by the respective State administrations to facilitate the process of workers getting home, amidst all the logistical challenges that are involved in coordinating such an effort and scale,” the organisations wrote. “However, it is also very clear that the present efforts by the State governments to organize transport from select cities and towns are not adequate to cover all the workers who want to get home.” The groups accused the central government of avoiding taking any real action to help labourers get home.
The groups said states should reach out to truck owners’ associations, private bus owners’ associations, as well as use their own state transport buses to intercept migrant workers who are walking home, and make their journey easier. “To facilitate this, it is necessary that the State governments permit the free movement of all types of vehicles carrying workers, across state borders and check posts,” they said.
The organisations also asked the states to refrain from charging any toll fee on the highways from migrant workers. They also requested that border security between states be notified in advance about the movement of workers.
“We also urge you to stop all kinds of corruption and harassment by individuals and State officials along the roads so that the walking workers can be assured of safe passage,” the groups said. “Given the extreme conditions and suffering faced by the workers, we all hope that your administrations can step up your ongoing efforts and intervene immediately.”
The groups said they have called for a “Twitter storm” on Thursday between 6 pm and 9 pm, under the hashtag #Wheelsforworkers.
The Centre imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 25, for an initial period of three weeks, to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown has been extended thrice, and is scheduled to end on May 31.
After the lockdown was initiated, hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers began journeys on foot to their hometowns. However, states sealed their borders on orders from the Centre, preventing the migrants from getting home.
On May 1, facing mounting political pressure, the Centre began to run over 300 “Shramik Special” trains to transport workers back home. However, many complained of not being able to board these trains, and continued their travel home on foot or in private vehicles. Some migrants died of illness or in accidents along the way.
India has so far reported 1,06,750 cases of Covid-19, including 3,303 deaths, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.