For the last two days, Bola Yadav, a construction labourer from Bihar, and five of his friends who hail from the same village, have been visiting stations across the city trying to catch that elusive train that will take them home. On Tuesday afternoon, they landed outside the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) on Tumakuru Road, where nearly 2,000 migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are being housed, but were caned by the police and chased away.
All five had registered on the Karnataka government’s Seva Sindhu, an online platform coordinating migrants’ journey home, but they are yet to get a clear response on when they can go back home. “We have made at least two trips to railway stations in Majestic, Yeshwantpur, and Chikkabanavara. Then someone said migrants are being sheltered at the exhibition centre, so we came here. We have already spent over ₹1,000 running around the city and don’t have any food or money left,” he said.
Vikram Prasad Gupta, a painter hailing from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, said he has been on the road for two days with no food. “I have had enough of the city and the uncertainty over meals and now I want to go back to my village. I won’t come back until everything is normal,” he said.
The Hindu met hundreds of such labourers, carrying heavy luggage and making arduous journeys mostly on foot from one railway station to another. Most of them were armed with a printout of their registration on the Seva Sindhu portal, demanding a seat on a train. What none of them realise is that registering on Seva Sindhu does not guarantee them a train ticket.
“Nodal officers appointed in each State will coordinate with Indian Railways and respective State governments, and organise a train that can carry only 1,021 passengers. When a train is organised, a set number of people registered on Seva Sindhu will get a text message on their phones with the details. Only they have to report to the station,” explained N. Manjunath Prasad, nodal officer for inter-State travel from the State. However, a majority of the migrant labourers who have registered on the portal are not tech savvy enough to understand or follow this procedure. And most have lost their patience. “We have been locked up for over a month now. Our families back home are concerned. The Union government has announced trains and we should be allowed to go home,” said Ganesh Kumar from Samastipur, Bihar.
This miscommunication and desperation to go home not only led to large groups of migrant labourers on the streets — often without maintaining social distancing — braving caning by the police, but also stone pelting and violence against the police, near BIEC on Monday night.
“I learnt there was some tension and rushed to the spot. Even as I was trying to reason with them, the crowd got violent and I was hit by a stone on my head,” said Mudduraju, Inspector, Peenya. “The labourers wanted to be on a train and were not ready to listen to us that the trains were yet to be organised and they should come only after they get a text message,” said a senior official at the spot.
Revenue Minister R. Ashok and Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao had a tough time convincing them to return home. They were sent back to their accommodations in the city through BMTC buses organised for the purpose.
A similar group of labourers from two construction sites at Attibele and Sarjapur congregated at Hudson Circle on Monday night. “They came to Majestic under the impression that there were trains to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. We dropped them back to Sarjapur in special buses,” said Chetan Singh Rathore, DCP (Central).