Even as hundreds of migrant workers flock to police and railway stations in Bengaluru in the hope of getting on trains that will take them back home, it has been learnt that the Karnataka government has cancelled trains citing ‘lack of passengers.’ The General Manager of South Western Railways confirmed to TNM that the state government has cancelled 13 trains that were supposed to leave on Wednesday and Thursday.
“We run the trains as per the state government’s requirements. Any number of trains they want we can run,” AK Singh, General Manager, South Western Railways told TNM. “We prefer that the state government gives us the schedule one week in advance. But many times, it is not possible for them. They have to inform us at least by 6 pm the previous day. Yesterday we were told to cancel four trains to Bihar and two trains to Uttar Pradesh which were scheduled to leave on Wednesday as they don’t have enough passengers,” he said.
“Even today, we have been told for tomorrow (Thursday), they want to cancel four trains to Bihar, two to UP and one for Nagaland,” he added.
TNM could not reach Manjunath Prasad, the nodal officer of Karnataka government for running these shramik trains.
While there is no public document on how many migrant workers want to leave the city on these trains, many police stations have been overwhelmed with the number of workers – especially from Bihar and UP – who have showed up at their doorsteps.
The state government has failed to produce these details even at the Karnataka High Court; all they have said is that 7 lakh workers have registered to go back home.
The state government has also been asked by the court to show details of how they have helped people who do not have access to technology to register on their Seva Sindhu portal, which is where the passenger and travel details are being collated.
Clifton D’ Rozario, an advocate representing the cause of these workers, and a member of the CPI(ML), said it is obvious that the state government’s version of “not having enough passengers” is false. “There are 800 workers gathered at KG Halli police station alone who want to go to Bihar, and are pursuing the police to get them on a train. If there are so many people in just one police station, then imagine what the total number of people in the city who want to leave.”
“This 7 lakh figure is like the mannequin you have in shops, it is just window dressing. What happened was, all workers had to register themselves at the police station and get separately registered with their Aadhaar card and photocopies of their identity cards. Let the police now come clean about how many workers were registered in each PS and how many workers have already left,” he added.
An activist who requested anonymity said, “It looks like since the government has to give free train service as announced by the Chief MInister following the case in the High Court, they want to reduce the number of trains.”
While on average 10-12 trains were leaving Bengaluru and its outskirts until Monday, since Tuesday the number of trains has been drastically reduced to around three trains per day.
Shelters set up by the government agencies alone in Bangalore International Centre and Palace Grounds Tennis Pavillion are sheltering hundreds of people who are hoping to board these trains. Many of these workers are also dependent on these shelters as they have not been paid their due wages and have been evicted by their landlords.
Activists and NGOs who are offering food and other support to these workers also rubbished the claim of ‘not enough passengers’ and said that the state government’s version is not based on facts.
Anita Kaniya, Director of Freedom Project India, one such group said, “We have been distributing cooked food, water and dry rations to migrants who are stranded or queuing up for hours outside police stations, verifying their documents. In the last 2 weeks we have been distributing food to 1800 migrants at police stations every day.” “But for the last two days with the trains cancelled, many workers are sitting dejected and without food at bus stops, on roadsides and even outside the police stations in the hope of hearing some positive news and getting a place on the trains. Today we have distributed 1450 meals at seven locations in north Bengaluru only among migrants waiting with bags and nowhere to go," she added.
What led people to gather at police, train stations
As reported on Tuesday, many of these workers who want to board these special trains got an SMS from MOBKAR - Mobile Karnataka - which read, "If you want to leave by Shramik Trains, SMS Yes followed by last 6 digits of Seva Sindhu application no to 161 from registered mobile before 6 pm 26th May.” And this message was misread by these workers as a call for them to gather at the police stations for the mandatory medical check up ahead of the train journey.
TNM had earlier reported how the state government had no clue about the number of migrant workers living in the city. Whether a worker could get on a train home depends on a combination of a variety of factors – there’s no simple system. Till now there is no clear cut protocol of who from which state will get a train, which often leads to some people being forced to rush at the last minute.
A token or a tracker system demanded by worker unions to be implemented for this purpose is also not in place.