Over a thousand migrant workers gathered outside Bandra railway station on Tuesday afternoon, demanding that they be sent home at the earliest as they are unable to sustain themselves during the lockdown. The police had to resort to lathi charge to disperse them.
In an address to the State on social media in the evening, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appealed to migrant workers to maintain calm. In his Marathi and Hindi address, Mr. Thackeray said a rumour about the resumption of outstation train services could have led to the gathering. Mr. Thackeray said the State is investigating the incident and those playing politics during a pandemic will be punished.
“The reason is that they felt trains would start from April 14 and they can go home. Someone must have put this in their mind,” he said. The State government is in talks with the Centre to help migrant workers return home, the Chief Minister added.
According to the Bandra police, people started gathering outside Jama Masjid near Bandra station around 4 p.m. The numbers soon swelled to around 1,500. “The people mostly comprised workers from other States and demanded that they be sent home as the lockdown, which was supposed to end on Tuesday, had been extended. Personnel from the Bandra police station, including senior officers, immediately rushed to the spot,” Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Pranaya Ashok said.
An officer with the Bandra police said the numbers grew even as senior police officers tried to explain that there were no means of transport available. The workers, mostly daily wagers, said they were unable to survive without work and income.
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‘Cannot defy orders’
“They said they were getting tired of surviving on the kindness of strangers. We told them that we understood their plight but could not defy orders issued by the Central and State governments and certainly not at a moment’s notice. Even as we were trying to disperse the gathering, some of them became physically aggressive, and the sentiment spread throughout the crowd,” the officer said.
Another officer said when repeated announcements on loudspeakers failed to calm down the workers and the situation was getting out of hand, the police resorted to lathi charge.
“We suspect that this was an instigation as it is hardly possible for such a large group to gather at short notice. The fact that they gathered at a spot far away from Bandra Terminus, where outstation trains depart from the city, also suggests that the intention was to create disturbance rather than seek help from the government. We are conducting inquiries to verify this,” he said.
Mr. Ashok said strict bandobast has been put in place in and around the area to prevent another flare-up. Preliminary inquiries have indicated that most of the workers are residents of localities near Bandra station. Officers said a truck was distributing rations to migrant workers in the area before the numbers swelled.
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“We have CCTV footage of the incident and are registering an FIR in connection with the matter,” Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Vinoy Kumar Choubey said.
Late on Tuesday night, the Bandra police registered an offence of unlawful assembly, rioting and disobedience of an order promulgated by a public servant under the Indian Penal Code along with relevant sections of the Epidemic Diseases Act against unidentified persons.
Late on Tuesday night, Vinay Dubey, a resident of Airoli, was picked up by the Rabale police and handed over to the Navghar police in Mumbai. Officials said that he was subsequently taken to the Bandra police station for inquiries.
"Mr. Dubey had instigated migrant workers to come out on the road and protest through a video that he posted on Facebook. We picked him up from his residence at sector 6 in Airoli where he stays with family. He claims to be a social worker," senior police inspector Yogesh Gawde from Rabale police station said.
The video on the Facebook was liked by 16,000 people and sharee across by 15,000 people.
Inputs from Raina Assainar