In Bengaluru, migrant workers set up camp outside police stations

Labourers outside the Varthur Police Station in Bengaluru on Wednesday.

Labourers outside the Varthur Police Station in Bengaluru on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: K.V. Aditya Bharadwaj

While some have nowhere else to go, others are worried that if they return to their accommodation they will miss out on a berth home

For the last seven days, Brijmohan Das, 46, has been camping out at an open-air vegetable market next to Varthur police station, desperate to secure a berth on that elusive train home. The carpenter from Bihar was working on a residential project that is now completed, and has nowhere to live.

“The contractor said he was helpless and stopped rations. Then the landlord asked us to vacate the room we were staying in. I became homeless so I came to the police station with my luggage to go home on a train. But today [Wednesday] is the seventh day and I am still here waiting,” he said.

Hundreds of migrant labourers desperate for a train ticket have been camping outside police stations in Whitefield. Police stations are now the nodal agencies responsible for ensuring that migrants who want to go home get a train ticket.

Even a few days ago, hundreds of migrant labourers were gathering outside police stations in Whitefield, which has the largest concentration of migrant labourers in the city. But according to the police, their numbers have reduced as over 26,000 people in Whitefield have boarded trains over the last few days. “We will clear the backlog in the next few days by putting them on trains,” a senior official said.

The problem at hand is crowd control and ensuring social distancing. Despite several requests by the police, the labourers are refusing to return to their residences.

“We are trying to put as many of them as possible on trains. Though we have asked them to return to their accommodations, they refuse as they fear that if they go they may not get a berth on the train,” said Putta Obala Reddy, inspector, Varthur Police.

Umesh Jadhav, 38, a construction labour from Bihar, has been living in the market for five days. “Recently when there were heavy rains, we had to rush into a nearby school for the night,” he said.

Police and volunteers from Whitefield Rising have been serving them food. “We are trying to do our best to help them by providing food and coordinating with the police to ensure they find a berth on trains as soon as possible. But it is a humanitarian crisis where many of us are helpless,” said Nitya Ramakrishnan of Whitefield Rising.

Those who register on the Seva Sindhu portal are allotted trains and an SMS is sent to their phones when they need to report to the railway station. However, the system is not working as planned as labourers are packing their belongings and reporting to police stations immediately after registering themselves. Many have paid middlemen ₹200 to ₹300 to register on the portal as they are not familiar with the technology.

“The SMS system sounds great on paper, but it doesn’t work for labourers,” a senior official said.

There was a sudden rush of excitement Wednesday afternoon, as a constable from Varthur Police called for people from Jharkhand to line up. Hundreds of them queued up in front of an adjacent school, hoping their turn will come today.

“I have been camping here for three days and I hope I will be able to make it to the train today. This is not the first time I have stood in such a queue though,” said Sudhama Ram, 48, a mason from Jharkhand. He eventually made the cut and left the city on a train home on Wednesday, even as others returned to wait for their turn.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 9:34:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/migrant-workers-set-up-camp-outside-police-stations/article31634702.ece

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