Activists allege that there is no government interest in coordination, which would make the process safer and easier for migrants waiting for trains to go home.

Migrant workers in Bengaluru carry luggage to go home at palace groundsPic: Rosemary Vishwanath
Coronavirus Migrants Thursday, July 02, 2020 - 20:07

One might assume that the migrant crisis in Bengaluru, with thousands of workers wanting to go back to their hometowns, was over. But just this Monday, thousands of migrant workers converged at the Tripura Vasini convention centre in Palace Grounds, which holds migrants until they can board trains.

Volunteers and activists working independently to support the government system say that there is a complete lack of process at this centre adding to the ordeal already being faced by the migrants.

While many Shramik trains have been arranged to transport thousands of migrants from Bengaluru to various states like Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar and Nagaland, the government is still processing people who want to leave Karnataka.

Initially, there were about 1,500 people waiting for a train to north Indian states so that they could go home. When the government announced on Sunday night that there would be a train to Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha, word spread quickly and several other migrants turned up at the convention centre. According to estimates by activists, there were nearly 3,000 people in total at the centre.

“Since each train has a capacity of about 1,800 people, not all who gathered could take the train. This left more than 1,500 people behind,” says Tanveer Ahmed, who works with Mercy Mission, a coalition of NGOs in the city.

Government inefficiency

The main problem that migrants wanting to go home face is lack of information. The trains and their destinations are not announced until the night before the train is scheduled to leave, after which migrants gather at the designated convention centre.

The government does not have an efficient way to communicate information, activists allege.

“The helpline numbers are rarely useful. Even if someone picks up, they ask the person to go and get information from some other office. Then what is the point of the helpline?” says Rosemary Vishwanath, a volunteer with Bangalore with Migrants.

Besides, there is no helpdesk at the convention centre where the migrants stay until there are enough people for a train to be arranged. There is no way to communicate with them on the ground, either. “We don’t have any sort of public address system. Even the two policemen stationed here were not given a van whose address system could be used to communicate information to the large crowds of people,” says Aditi from Bangalore with Migrants.

Finally, the government was able to send about 1,800 people on the train to Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. There was some confusion about whether a second train would be announced, and the migrant workers were stuck in the convention centre for hours with no proper water, sanitation or lighting facilities.

The large numbers of people who had gathered due to the lack of information also became a huge logistical problem for the government authorities. Activists said that there were over a thousand people who needed help with filling forms and only three government officials capturing the data.

“A second train was announced in the evening and people were crowding together to get information. In the evening, there was only one person handling the data entry. Finally, the Joint Commissioner decided that no data would be entered, and they would only collect their forms and allow them to leave. The train left at 11.51 pm that night,” Tanveer says.

He adds, “If the second train was routed better, through Bihar, then another 500 people could’ve also left that night.” The second train carried migrants to Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Lack of facilities at shelter

The Tripura Vasini convention centre, situated about 5 km from the main train station in the city, hosts migrant workers who are set to leave to city, in order to process their forms and papers.

With a majority of migrants having already left, the government seems to have lost interest in maintaining basic facilities, allege activists.

Saniya, one of the few volunteers who continues to work with the migrants, says, “There are no basic facilities. The government has not paid the convention centre, so there is no water or electricity, and no one is cleaning the toilets. The hall can fit more than 1,000 people at a time, but there are just three toilets.”

Since there is no electricity, there are neither lights nor fans, and the space becomes overheated when thousands are stuck at the centre, Saniya says.

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