False message on trains brings thousands of migrants to Bengaluru's Palace Grounds

On Friday, scores of migrants who had registered to return home received a message, stating that a train would be leaving from Bengaluru to Puri in Odisha on Saturday.
Migrants from Odisha at Palace Grounds
Migrants from Odisha at Palace Grounds

Uncertainty lingered in the air at Palace Grounds in Bengaluru where thousands of migrant workers from Odisha had been gathering since Saturday morning, as they awaited details about their impending journey back home. The lockdown had left many of them in the lurch with no work or money, forcing them to take the decision to return to their native state.

On Friday, scores of migrants who had registered to return home, received a message on their phones, informing them that a train would be leaving from Bengaluru to Puri in Odisha on Saturday. The message was received by many migrant workers who had registered to go back home – and was forwarded on WhatsApp to hundreds of others. However, it turned out that the message was an ‘error’ – there was no train waiting for the migrants, only chaos as thousands of people gathered.

“I live with three others from my native town in Bengaluru and we were working here as construction workers. When we got to know that there was an opportunity to go back, we decided to register. We did not want to take any risks and packed up our things last night itself and came after we got the message,” 31-year-old Suvendu, a native of Bhubaneswar in Odisha, told TNM.

Suvendu and his friends received a message on Friday and had been waiting since 3 am at Palace Grounds

As per reports, two trains were scheduled, one with a carrying capacity of 1500 was heading to Manipur and another heading to Odisha could take 1600 people. Those who were supposed to travel on these trains were to report at Palace Grounds to undergo a medical examination following which they’d be taken to railway stations. However, according to sources, due to an error with the Seva Sindhu portal, over 9000 people who had registered with the portal were sent messages telling them to report to Palace Grounds on Saturday morning.

TNM has read the message that the Odisha natives received, typed in Odia. It said, “Train to Kendrapara/Cuttack on May 23. Reach Gate number (x) Palace Grounds, Ballari grounds. Ticket cost Rs 1,000. One person will be given permission to travel after showing this message. Carrying e-pass is compulsory. – Karnataka Government.” The message sender was MOBKAR – Mobile Karnataka. This message was then forwarded by desperate migrant workers to their friends.

Messages received by the migrants who had registered to go home

According to Lekha Adavi of the Alternative Law Forum (ALF) in Bengaluru, those who had received the message were told that they would be allotted seats on a first-come-first-serve basis, and so many reached Palace Grounds on Friday night itself.

She explained that traffic police had set up registration desks within the premises earlier in the day. However, even though many of them were registered, they were not provided further information on the time of departures or other details.

As scores waited patiently inside, thousands of others were lining up outside the gates of Palace Grounds on Saturday.

Migrants lining up outside gate 3 of Palace Grounds

Soon, many people received another message from the same sender, this time typed in English: “Today (23.5.20) and Tomorrow’s (24.5.20) trains to Odisha are full… It is requested not to come to Bangalore until further information. All are requested to cooperate by not coming to Bangalore. Thank you.”

However, it was late. Many had already vacated their accommodations, hoping they could get on the trains. The second message left them with no place to turn to.

Both these messages are believed to be from Karnataka’s Seva Sindhu portal, that is the central point for coordinating migrants’ travel.

“We vacated our room and managed to collect about Rs 2,000 amongst ourselves to take auto rickshaws to reach here. We came all the way from Devanahalli, only to be told that the trains are full. We have nothing now, no money, no food and no place to stay. The officials are also not telling us what is happening or what we need to do,” said 28-year-old Kageshwar Nayak, a native of Kendrapara district in Odisha.

Kageshwar and his friends have vacated their accomodation and have no place to go while they wait for an update from officials

Several migrants waiting outside Palace Grounds for information about when they can go home

Twenty-year-old Charan has been living near Kamakshipalya in Bengaluru with his mother, sister and uncle. While his mother is a labourer, he is a student. He and his family are among those who are uncertain what to do next: to stay back in Bengaluru, where there is no work left, or return to Odisha, where cyclone Amphan has left a trail of destruction.

“We don’t know what it means to go home, or how bad the situation is with the cyclone. We don’t want to stay here anymore. We came here to build a livelihood for ourselves, but even that has gone now. I am studying here. But with how the situation has been, my mother feels it is better that we go back,” said Charan.

Charan’s family and others have been scrambling to get more information on their journey. “One day, they say that people from Odisha are great, and the next day, they abandon us without any help,” he added.

Charan and his family outside gate 3 at Palace Grounds

Lekha, too, had been trying to get more information as to what was going on. “There has been a lot of confusion. We don’t know where most of these people will be staying tonight, as they all don’t have the financial or logistical means to go elsewhere. Earlier in the day, officials said that they would look into the issue, but so far, there has not been any word on what is happening,” Lekha added.

As they waited for an official announcement, the migrant workers were left stranded without a place to stay or even food and other basic necessities. Volunteers and NGOs came forward to provide water, biscuits, medicines and other amenities.

Volunteers hand out water to those entering the gates at Palace Grounds

Migrants walk to gate number 4 at Palace Grounds where officials were permitting some to enter

“Just a few days ago, the state government was praising workers like us from Odisha and other places. Now they are doing this and not giving us any information and treating us like this,” said Kageshwar.

Many continued to remain on the Palace Grounds the entire Saturday night. Some alleged that police assaulted them for staying back on the ground.

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