After backlash, Karnataka restarts trains for migrant workers
Days after stopping trains meant to ferry migrant workers to their home states, the Karnataka government retracted its order on Thursday after severe backlash. The BS Yediyurappa government has now written to other states seeking their consent to transport migrant workers, students, and tourists. Stuck since the lockdown started, migrant workers got relief last week when Centre finally started special trains for them.
This week, Yediyurappa met honchos of construction companies, who told him they were facing a labor shortage and couldn't re-start economic activities. Subsequently, the BJP leader appealed to the workers to stay back, assuring them of food, accommodation, and financial aid. And then in a move which garnered criticism, he stopped trains. The state government also communicated with South Western Railways in this regard.
This decision was followed by a Rs. 1,610 crore relief package which Yediyurappa announced for the distressed ones. The announcement that Rs. 5,000 would be given to registered workers also did little to calm them. Most of them pleaded to be allowed to go home, even by walking. In some labor colonies, skirmishes were reported between cops and frustrated migrant workers.
As per ET, the state government has received an overwhelming response from migrant workers who wished to leave their workplaces. 52,036 from Bihar, 34,508 from Uttar Pradesh, and 18,320 from Rajasthan registered to be sent back. The migrant workers claimed they hadn't received wages for the last 2-3 months. It is a dire situation, to say the least.
Yesterday, hundreds of laborers gathered at a construction site with the same demand. They wanted to be sent home. "They are telling us there are no trains to go home. Then let us walk home. We can't be here anymore," worker Bihari Sa told Firstpost. He said his family was starving in Saran while he is forced to spend his savings on food.
"It may take a month to walk home to Jharkhand. I'll take the chance. Walking will give us some hope of reaching our homes, but here, I have lost all hope," Tabreez Ansari, who came from Jharkhand's Palamu, told the daily.
After the decision, several clips detailing the plight of migrant workers surfaced on social media. In one, some of them showed the sorry condition where they were being forced to stay and said they would rather die with their loved ones. In other pictures, a couple of workers held a placard that loosely read, "We are held captive in the cities we built".
To note, the decision of the Karnataka government was met with an insensitive response by BJP's own parliamentarian Tejasvi Surya. He said it was a "bold decision". "It will help migrant laborers who came here with hopes of a better life to restart their dreams. Also, it will kickstart economic activities full throttle," he wrote on Twitter. Surya was slammed for promoting "bonded labor".