Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram: It was the time they have been waiting for quite a while: kids, women, youth and men all were seen in a cheerful mood as they stood in a queue to enter the Aluva station to board a non-stop train to Odisha''s capital Bhubaneswar.
Aluva station is in Ernakulam district.
The train was scheduled to leave at 6 p.m, but owing to delay in the registration process, it was delayed by a couple of hours or more.
"I have been here for the past eight years, but now we are all returning to our home-town. Along with me is my full family of two kids and my wife... We are scared of coronavirus. We are thankful to all who have made this happen," said an Oriya man waiting in the queue.
"We never thought our return would happen so quickly. We are happy to go back," said another youth.
Meanwhile, as the news surfaced about the train service resuming on Friday morning, the Aluva station was besieged by migrant labourers enquiring about trains'' schedule. All of them were told politely that everybody would be taken on board and that none should create a scene.
At Perambavoor, which has the highest number of migrant labourers, the health and police authorities had opened four registrations counters and those wanting to return stood in a queue for registration.
"There are some more seats to be filled, but the counter will close soon and then those who have been given a token to travel will be asked to board a state-owned bus which will drop them at the Aluva railway station," said a police officer overseeing the registration.
State Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunilkumar told media that it was last night that he got information about this train.
"Things then moved very fast. Those who wanted to return were identified. There is a protocol in place for the migrant labourers who wish to return. All will be checked for their health condition and if things are fine, they will be given the green signal. A dozen medical teams are examining all those wanting to return," said Sunilkumar.
"Each coach will accommodate 60 passengers in order to maintain social distancing. Food and water for the journey will be provided," said Sunilkumar.
Early in the day, State Home Secretary Biswas Mehta told media about the "rail operation."
"All arrangements are in place for the first train, carrying 1,200 stranded migrant labourers, to leave from Ernakulam (Kerala) for Bhubaneswar in Odisha on Friday evening", said Mehta.
According to the state Labour Department, there are 20,826 camps across the state where 3,61,190 migrant labourers are sheltered.
"All those who are going will have to pay the base fare. Around 1,200 migrant labourers are expected to be on board. Tomorrow we are planning more trains. These are all non-stop trains. We alone cannot do this, as partnering states to which these people are going also have to agree", said Mehta.
"Partnering states and Kerala have to work in tandem as those states have to arrange for quarantine. As and when states like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam and Bihar agree, we will be sending more people," said Mehta.
He requested all the migrant workers to cooperate with the district authorities.
"My appeal to all those wishing to return is to listen to the district authorities. There should not be any problems. Everyone who wishes to return will be taken. Since there is a limit of 1,200 passengers in one train, all have to be patient. We expect around three lakh people to return from here," said Mehta.
Trains will also depart from big cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.
Ernakulam district, being the commercial capital of the state, has the highest number of migrant labourers.
The police will be transporting labourers from the various camps in the city to these stations. --IANS