Many migrant workers are misinformed, and turn up at the Secunderabad Railway station unaware that there is no train service from the station.

Migrant workers amid the coronavirus lockdown in India
Coronavirus Crisis Friday, May 08, 2020 - 09:06

Twenty-three-year-old Manikandan from Tamil Nadu has been living at the bus stop before Secunderabad Railway station in Hyderabad for the past three days. “I don’t know Hindi or Telugu or English. I was told by the migrant workers at my camp in Narsingi to come to Secunderabad railway station to board the train,” says Manikandan, whose family was under the impression that the youth had boarded a train to Chennai three days ago. “The last time I spoke to my father, I told him that I am heading to the railway station to catch a train. They don’t know I am still stuck here in Hyderabad as there are no trains,” says the youth.

Apart from the language barrier, Manikandan has no phone that would enable him to enrol with e-Pass/travel pass online. “I don’t know what to do,” says the young man, who then decided to camp at the bus stop for three full days. All the while, he was unaware that barely a street away the Gopalpuram police station was undertaking registrations for migrant workers and housing those registered with their station at the Gopalpuram government primary school, a few feet away from the police station.

TNM came across several migrants who had walked several kilometres to the Secunderabad railway station, only to realise that there were no train services operating from the station. There is no single point of source for information from the Telangana government for the migrant workers. Misinformation is rampant, forcing many to walk from one police station limits to another, just to get registered for a trip back home.

“This railway station is in the heart of the city, we don’t want the workers to overcrowd here. There was a huge rush the day after it was announced that there would be trains to take the workers back to their homes,” says a police officer at the Secunderabad Railway station main gate.

“We ask them to get registered at police stations and arrange buses that will take them from each police station to the railway stations in the outskirts of the city. After they are registered, we provide them with accommodation, food and water,” the officer adds.

The officer says that every day, he receives several people, often in groups, arriving at the Secunderabad railway station on foot, unaware that the station is shut. The police take the workers scheduled to return home to Lingampally, Ghatkesar, Charlapally, Bibinagar stations and this information is not given to the migrant workers to prevent them from camping at these stations.

Manikandan, like many others like him, was unaware about these police arrangements when he decided to quit work at a construction site after his pay was slashed. When TNM assisted the youth in reaching the Gopalpuram police station and communicated with the two police officials, “Ask him to wait till 10 am and get registered,” was all the officers had to say on the matter.

Once the migrant workers register at any of the police stations or at registration counters, the wait for the call informing about the train timings to home begins.

When the police fail to coordinate

Fifty-three-year-old Ganesh Mahto got himself registered to return home to Bihar with the Shadnagar police station soon after KCR announced 40 trains daily to take migrant workers back to their homes. He walked over 50 km to Secunderabad railway stations only to realise there was no train service available. The police officers at Shadnagar did not inform him about any accommodation or bus service to the railway station from the police station. “I am waiting to get registered again,” says Ganesh.

“Some police stations are not informing the workers about any arrangements, there is no help from the Labour Department or from the Health Department. There is miscommunication between the stations,” says a police source, who adds that some migrants even missed their train due to the miscommunication between police stations.

“Some of them walked all the way from Madhapur to Gopalpuram police station limits, when they got a call that their train leaves at 2 pm from Lingampally railway station. They missed the train as they couldn’t walk back on time. We are also helpless to drop them back, we have a fixed budget for vehicle diesel money and have to run everything with that,” the officer adds.

Many of the officers whom TNM spoke to say they are stressed and find the whole experience of dealing with the crisis faced by the migrants, numbing. “I’m also a human being, my heart breaks when I hear about them walking so many kilometres to come here,” says another officer. “But we are afraid to tell anything to higher-ups, our police station and officers here will get pulled up for speaking to the media,” he adds.

When asked about migrant workers being turned away from the police station, the officer says, “We have no choice but to be tough with the workers to maintain law and order and prevent overcrowding before the station.”

Ganesh and those who were with him all say they had been turned away from different police stations before finally reaching the Gopalpuram police station. “At this police station, they asked us to wait and come later,” adds the 53-year-old.

Vakil Sadha and 23 other migrant workers from Bihar boarded a truck from Mahabubabad district with permission from the Mahabubabad district superintendent of police. “We paid Rs 26,000, pooling in our money to pay the driver,” says Vakil who has registered with the Gopalpuram police station and is camped at the government primary school. So far 1600 migrant workers have registered at this police station for a trip back home to Bihar.

The station officials say they are arranging trains to Bihar first. The push for sending migrant workers back to Bihar came after the Telangana Chief Minister announced that the trains with migrants after dropping them would return back with 20,000 Bihari workers to work at the rice mills in Telangana. The CMO took the decision at the insistence of rice mill and construction lobby groups.

The officials on the ground, however, are unsure about what plans are afoot for trains to other states. When the migrant workers ask for a date, the officials have no answers to give them.

“When will the call come?”

There are about 150 people lodged at the two-floor government primary school at Gopalpuram, where social distancing norms don't seem to apply. A majority of migrant workers at this relief camp are from Bihar, an old couple from Gujarat who arrived in Hyderabad for medical treatment, a textile worker and her family from Andhra Pradesh are all residents here.

“When will the call come?” asks Mahesh from Madhya Pradesh, “I got this text saying my application has been accepted on May 5, and after that nothing. Do you know when the trains to Madhya Pradesh will be ready?”

“Some non-profits are providing us with food, but yesterday they came only two times,” says Vakil. “By noon the water runs out.”

Fifty-four-year-old Meena from Gujarat, who accompanied her husband for medical treatment, cuts Vakil short, “Be happy that there is at least a roof.”

“If the water runs out then we should use less water. Who knows for how long we will be allowed to stay here,” she adds.

A senior police officer with the Telangana police coordinating with the Railways and counterparts from other states tells TNM that about three lakh migrants have registered to go back so far in the state. “Their travel back home depends on whether their home state is willing to accept them. Many states have not responded, especially West Bengal. These things depend on the equation between Chief Ministers of the states,” the official says.

When asked about the role of the Labour Department in coordination and relief for migrant workers, the official says, “We need more help. At present all workload is on the police. We are trying our best.”

Labour Department officials were unavailable for comment. 


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