Over a thousand migrant workers had gathered at Bandra railway station on Tuesday, demanding support to go back to their native places.

Labour activist journalist booked for rumours that led Bandra migrant workers gatheringPTI photo
Coronavirus Lockdown Wednesday, April 15, 2020 - 13:05

On Tuesday morning, a few hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address announcing the extension of the nationwide lockdown till May 3, hundreds of migrant workers had gathered outside Bandra railway station in Mumbai. While the gathering was in violation of social distancing norms, the workers – over a thousand in number – had gathered in Bandra around 3 pm demanding transport arrangements to go back to their native places. Most of the migrants were reportedly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Visuals of the incident show the police lathi charging the workers to disperse them. According to reports, the migrant workers gathered there following rumours that arrangements were being made to take them back home. 

Now, three FIRs have been registered in relation to the incident. One of the FIRs is against at least 1,000 migrant workers, for assembling near Bandra railway station in Mumbai on Tuesday in defiance of the coronavirus lockdown norms, causing a public health scare, police said. No arrests have been made yet and the workers are being identified, a Bandra police station official told PTI.

“We have registered an FIR under sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (punishment for rioting), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)," he said.

Besides section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act has also been invoked against them, he said.

FIR against man who allegedly started rumours

A man identified as Vinay Dubey was detained by police in neighbouring Navi Mumbai over messages on his social media accounts which are believed to have contributed to the migrant workers’ gathering.

Vinay, a self-proclaimed labour leader, had put up posts warning the governments that there will be mass protests if arrangements are not made for taking migrant workers back home. He had also tweeted about the issue and called for a national-level protest if trains are not arranged till April 18 to ferry migrant workers to their native places. 

Further, Vinay had uploaded a video on his Facebook account in which he claimed that he had arranged 40 buses to take migrant labourers back home from Mumbai. 

“I had arranged for 40 buses. And I had written to all state governments that they grant us permission to run these buses. I had arranged for them to be taken to their native places free of charge. However, there has been no progress on this permission,” he said in the video.

“It is acceptable if you don’t let them enter their villages for 14 days or quarantine them in school premises once they reach their native places. But here, if they don’t die of coronavirus, they will die of starvation. Today, neither their employers are caring for them, neither the government is reaching them. It is a failure on the government’s part. The government should pay attention to this situation. If the trains do not run and the permissions are not given for buses – I want to inform through this video that we will wait till April 14-15. If there is no concrete decision from the government, then the lakhs and thousands of labourers stuck in Mumbai and Maharashtra, I, Vinay Dubey, will take them and will embark on a foot journey to north India. Around April 20, we will take this journey, the way those in Delhi travelled on foot to Bihar and UP, the same way, we also are resigned to take this step,” he added.

 

#सरकार को #आखरी_चेतावनी !!! ✅ यह #विडियो महाराष्ट्र मे #फंसे हर इंसान तक #पहुचाएँ जो #अपने_गाव_घर_परिवार मे #वापस जाना #चाहता है !! #विनय_दुबे

Posted by Vinay Dubey on Saturday, April 11, 2020

The police suspect his social media messages contributed to the gathering in Bandra.

Vinay was apprehended from Airoli in Navi Mumbai on Tuesday night, an official said.

After handing him over to the Mumbai police, he will be in custody of the Azad Maidan police, where the process of registering an offence against him was going on, an official said.

FIR against ABP Majha reporter

A third FIR was registered against ABP Majha reporter Rahul Kulkarni, for allegedly incorrectly reporting that special trains to ferry migrant workers to their homes have been arranged by the government. 

Maharashtra Cabinet Minister Nawab Malik tweeted a clip from ABP Majha, saying that perhaps this news report was the reason that the migrant workers gathered at Bandra.

In the ABP Majha report, reporter Rahul Kulkarni says that special trains will be deployed to help transport migrant labourers who have been stuck amid lockdown, and transport them back home. Rahul quotes railway sources that after a video conference meeting, every division has been given data and the special trains called 'janasadharan' will be run for this purpose.

Later, Rahul Kulkarni tweeted a letter from the South Central Railway as well. “A lot of people have been trolling me. Among them I don't know how many saw the 9 o'clock news I gave. Did we say anytime that trains are going to start? Read this railway letter now,” he wrote in the tweet.

The letter says that in a video conference held on April 13, it was “decided to run Jansadharan Specials for clearing stranded passengers/migrant labour of unreserved segment”. However, the circular does not mention when the trains will run, and asks officials to “critically analyze the number of stranded passengers and migrants” and submit a proposal with destinations.

Rahul also told HuffPost that he stood by his report.

CM Uddhav Thackarey’s reaction

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray sought to reassure migrant workers, saying that the lockdown was not "lock-up", and appealed to them to stay back.

Conducting a live webcast on the COVID-19 situation in the state, Thackeray briefly also spoke in Hindi, and stated that his administration was looking after migrant workers. "These workers were told the trains will resume services from April 14 and hence they gathered. I appeal to them not to believe rumours," he said. "The challenge is to tackle coronavirus by staying back. This is Maharashtra and we are one country.”

He warned that he will not allow miscreants to play with the sentiments of poor migrants and create a law and order problem in the state. "Whatever the government is doing is for your good," Thackeray told migrants, seeking cooperation. Nobody should do politics over this issue, he added.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah also spoke to CM Uddhav Thackarey in the aftermath of the incident. According to news agency ANI, Shah offered his support to the Maharashtra government, and said that events like this protest weaken India’s fight against COVID-19. He added that the administration needs to stay vigilant to avoid such incidents.

Probe announced

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh announced on Tuesday night that a probe has been ordered to find out who spread the rumour that trains will be run to take migrant workers back to their states.

"I have ordered an investigation into the rumour that claimed trains to take migrants back home. Those found guilty of sparking such rumours will be dealt severely invoking the fullest force of law. #ZeroToleranceForRumours,” he tweeted.  

PTI inputs

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