Migrant workers rushed to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus on Tuesday to board trains to their hometowns, after the Maharashtra government announced strict coronavirus-related restrictions, The Indian Express reported.
Thousands of workers also went to the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in the city to board long-distance trains, PTI reported. Meanwhile, the Railways urged the people not to panic and avoid crowding the stations. The Central Railway also tweeted pictures showing a deserted terminus.
The Railway Protection Force and Government Railway Police have deployed more personnel outside the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus to control the crowd, according to PTI.
The Maharashtra government had on Tuesday banned gatherings of more than four people across the state for 15 days amid the surge in coronavirus cases. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray described the new order as “janata curfew” or self-imposed people’s curfew, instead of a lockdown.
The government will allow only essential service to operate during this period.
Expecting a lockdown like the one imposed in March last year, many migrant workers bought train tickets to their native places, according to The Indian Express. Several others tried to enter the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus on Tuesday after purchasing tickets for the general compartment.
Central Railways’ Public Relations Officer Shivaji Sutar told the newspaper that 10 trains scheduled to leave for North India on Wednesday had a waiting list of 1,000 to 1,500 people “We are running additional trains based on the waiting lists,” the official added.
Meanwhile, the Western Railways said two trains would leave from the Bandra Terminus for North India on Wednesday. These trains also have a long waiting list, according to the newspaper.
“Looking at the waiting list, we have announced two trains on Thursday from Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus,” Western Railways Chief Public Relations Officer Sumit Thakur told The Indian Express. “We are monitoring the daily waiting lists and announcing the required number of trains accordingly.”
Last week, the Railways had said that there was no plan to curtail train services as reports emerged that hundreds of migrant workers in Delhi and Mumbai were crowding railway stations to return home.
The migrant crisis last year
Visuals of migrant workers flocking to railway and bus stations evoked memories of the lockdown imposed by the Narendra Modi government on March 24 last year to rein in the pandemic. The lockdown lasted for nine weeks, and was then either partially or fully extended in different parts of the country.
The restrictions effectively put the entire population at home for all but essential items like groceries or medicines. But the world’s largest lockdown turned into a humanitarian crisis for India’s workforce. Tens of thousands of people walked on foot back to their homes. Some died on the way due to illness, while others were killed in road accidents. Many died of exhaustion after walking home in the scorching heat.
The government started over 300 special trains on May 1 to help the workers get home amid severe criticism from all quarters.
In September, the Centre told the Parliament that it has no data on the number of deaths of migrant workers. However, the Railway Protection Force had said that nearly 80 migrant workers died of starvation or heat sickness while travelling on special trains between May 9 and May 27.