Migrant workers on board the special trains arranged by the Centre running through the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar lodged protests, complaining about the squalid conditions of travel and inordinate delays in train schedules, NDTV reported on Saturday. Many alleged that they were not given anything to eat or drink during the journey, while others claimed they were fed rotten food.
Workers on board one such train bound for Bihar from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh on Friday blocked railway tracks and raised slogans against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar after their train was held up at the outer signal of the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya railway junction for over ten hours, NDTV reported. “The train came here last night at 11 pm and is standing here since,” Dhiren Rai, one of the migrant workers on board the train, told the channel. “We have got no food for two days. We were forced to pay Rs 1,500 each for this journey.”
Other workers said they were not even given drinking water during the journey, News18 reported. In a video widely circulated on social media, migrants were seen jostling each other as they tried to grab water bottles kept on the platform.
In Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, passengers of a train heading towards Bihar from Bengaluru, Karnataka, smashed window panes and threw stones at the platform after the train made an unscheduled stop. They were protesting against the lack of food during their journey. The station master reportedly suffered minor injuries in the incident.
Unnao District Magistrate Ravindra Kumar, while acknowledging the incident, told NDTV that proper arrangements will be made so that migrant workers don’t face any problem. “We have directed station master to make adequate requirements for water at all platforms,” he said. “[We] will ensure that passengers don’t face any problem.”
On Friday evening, migrant workers on board a special train going from Gujarat to Bihar threw the food served to them at Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur junction claiming it was rotten. “There is no water even in the toilets,” an unidentified worker said. “What should we drink? The pooris served to us are very tight as if they were cooked four or five days ago, that is why we threw away all the food.”
Another train running from Panvel in Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur district was held up near Varanasi for over 10 hours. Furious about the delay, many workers got off the train and squatted on railway tracks. Eventually the railway police had to intervene and everyone on board was given a free meal to quell the protests.
“We got food in Maharashtra but we got nothing in Uttar Pradesh,” Govind Kumar Rajbhar, told NDTV at the station. “The train was held up in Kashi [Varanasi] for seven hours, then it moved and was held up again for two hours. Later it moved and is stuck again.”
Lacking basic rights and marooned in unfamiliar places, migrant workers were the first in the workforce to be hit by an economic downturn. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown in March, hundreds of thousands of migrants and their families poured out of cities, as they tried to get back to their native villages, after their jobs evaporated overnight. Many haven’t made it. Some have been crushed by trains, others were run over by trucks. A few have simply collapsed while trudging down highways, dead from exhaustion.
On May 1, the Centre started over 300 “Shramik Special” trains to take the labourers to their hometowns. But the workers cannot directly book train tickets. They have to first register with the government of the host state, which then coordinates with the government of the home state. There have also been complaints of black marketing of tickets for the trains. Tickets that never arrived have been sold for prices as exorbitant as Rs 1,500.