While some responded to the text and received “service is expired” messages, others struggled to follow the instructions given.

SMS yes before 6 pm for Shramik train Govt SMS panics migrant workers in BengaluruPTI : Image for representation
Coronavirus Migrant Tuesday, May 26, 2020 - 21:08

Saharul, a migrant worker from West Bengal who works as a waste-picker in Whitefield, has been waiting to return to his home ever since he registered on the Seva Sindhu portal for interstate travel on May 4. 

On Tuesday around 2 pm, he received 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"

But when Saharul tried to respond to the instructions in the message, he received a second message which read, "Service is expired," even though he had responded well within the stipulated time. 

Saharul was not alone. Many migrant workers who registered on the Seva Sindhu portal to return to their respective states from Karnataka were jolted on Tuesday afternoon when they received a message asking them to respond within a few hours of receiving the message.

 

It sparked panic among the workers who are desperate to return to their homes. "We thought we would be getting to leave on the trains but we received a message saying that the service has expired. We have been waiting to go home for the past two weeks and we have not received a single message or call about the trains. Even when we received a message, it turns out it is not helpful," Saharul says. 

When asked about this message and what it means, Karnataka Education Minister S Suresh Kumar said that he will look into the incident. "If this has happened and they were given a deadline 6 pm in the afternoon and if there are some cases where workers are not so literate (and unable to respond) we will allow them to leave later," Suresh Kumar said.  

But even as the state government examined the issue, panic had spread among workers in the city. Sharat, a migrant worker from Odisha, who lives in Koramangala in Bengaluru also confirmed to TNM that he received the message but he decided against responding since work has resumed in the city for him. However, others who were desperate to go home were searching for answers from officials to explain what the message was about.  

Eighteen migrant workers from West Bengal who work in Sarjapura left their homes towards the railway station after reading the SMS. They were under the impression that they need to reach the railway station before 6 pm.

Activists have pointed out that not all workers carry phones with them or are literate enough to follow instructions given via SMS. "Workers are not proficient with technology and they find it difficult to send an SMS. Employers and the government know where the workers are staying. Why can't they assist them in identifying workers who want to leave?" asks Lekha Adavi, an advocate and labour activist based in Bengaluru. 

Even when some workers followed the instructions, they were met with no response from officials. "Migrants who are literate enough to do this exercise are getting messages like "Service is expired,” "Thank you for the message" etc. This is a joke being played on desperate and homeless people," says Deepanjali, an activist based in Sarjapur in the city.

The Karnataka government, in its submissions in the High Court, has stated that there are 7 lakh applicants on the Seva Sindhu portal looking to leave the state. This figure is not limited to migrant workers and also includes others, such as students. The High Court has asked the state government to specify how many migrant workers are looking to leave the state. 

The state government has also stated that they are accepting applications in police stations from workers who want to leave the city by train in addition to the Seva Sindhu portal. Interestingly, Bengaluru police officials have previously stated that the process of identifying migrant workers who want to leave by trains is taking place through registrations made at police stations in the city. Police officials have also told TNM that they are not using the Seva Sindhu portal for facilitating travel of migrant workers. Many workers have registered themselves both on the portal and in their jurisdictional police station limits. 

Read: For thousands of migrant workers in Bengaluru, a train ticket is like winning a lottery

This incident also comes just days after a false message spreading information that a train would be leaving from Bengaluru to Puri in Odisha on Saturday prompted thousands of migrant workers to gather at Bengaluru's Palace Grounds. 

However, it turned out that the message was an ‘error’ and there was no train waiting for the migrants. This led to chaos before many workers returned to their homes disappointed. Some of the workers have now been accommodated in trains that left Bengaluru for Odisha. 

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

With inputs from Soumya Chatterjee

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