Tamil Nadu is home to more than 10 lakh migrant workers, with the majority hailing from northern and north-eastern states. In March last year, after the nationwide lockdown took effect, most of these workers were left stranded at the Central station without trains.
During his address to the nation Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged states to find jobs for migrant labourers so as to stop them from heading back to their native places even as he sought to assure them that they will get their vaccine shots wherever they are and the prevailing pandemic situation won’t affect their livelihoods.
However, despite the PM’s words of assurance, thousands of workers have been queuing up at the Puratchi Thalaivar Dr MGR Central Railway Station in Chennai since Tuesday to take the train back home. Tamil Nadu is home to more than 10 lakh migrant workers, with the majority hailing from northern and north-eastern states. In March last year, after the nationwide lockdown took effect, most of these workers were left stranded at the Central station without trains. They suffered without food and water. The trauma of last year’s lockdown is still fresh in their minds and the workers say they don’t want to face a similar situation this time.
With more than 10,000 cases being reported on a daily basis, the state government had recently announced fresh restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. A night curfew announced by the government has been in force since April 20. On Sundays, there is complete lockdown with only essential services allowed to function and vehicles ferrying essential goods allowed to ply.
“Government should help us by permitting more special trains. I have been sleeping near the station for the past two days. The police are not allowing us to sleep inside the station. So, we have to find some place nearby to sleep at night. I only have money to buy a ticket and am just about managing with the food I packed before I reached here. My wife and kid are alone, I want to go home as soon as possible,” said Subash, a resident of Odisha.
Long queues were seen in front of the reservation counter as there are no unreserved compartments. Many passengers were seen queueing up at the counter, waiting to travel to West Bengal, Patna, Uttar Pradesh and Chattisgarh, among other native places. The Southern Railway (SR) had announced that it would be running special trains or adding additional coaches to existing ones to clear the rush of the migrant workers. They have asked workers not to panic, assuring that regular trains will be operated to their native states. As per the latest information provided by SR, a total of 17 trains will be operated from Chennai Central in a week. These include three trains to Bihar, 10 to West Bengal and two trains apiece to Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. Another for Assam is scheduled to leave from Tambaram.
A senior railway official said unnecessary panic is causing migrant workers to queue up at the railway station. “They fear a complete lockdown despite several announcements from the government. Some of them reach the station a day before their journey for fear that they may not be able to move out of their areas due to the prevailing curfew. The railway police are making sure the passengers wear masks and maintain social distancing. The passengers are regularly informed about Covid safety measures through loudspeakers,” he said.
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