MUMBAI: Authorities seem to be rubbing salt into the wound of migrant workers, given the numerous procedural hurdles it has placed in the path of the latter, who simply want to go back home.
From waiting for hours outside police stations, to being subjected to 'disinfection tunnels', migrant workers must brave the pandemic conditions and the lockdown, just to get the green signal from the authorities that will enable them to return to their native places.
Only after the Union and state governments issued circulars relaxing lockdown rules for the stranded migrants to go back home, did the authorities devise a procedure to ensure there was no chaos.
So fool proof is the official plan that there seems to be nothing but chaos, so far. What is the official procedure? Migrant workers wanting to go back home must fill an application form and submit it to the local police station.
Accordingly, a list is prepared, and the migrants are given a date on which they can board a train. In theory, this process seems very simple but in practice, it is arduous. "Local police contacted me and asked if I wanted to go back home. Then I was asked to come to the Chembur Police station.
Here I am, standing from 11 am and now it is 7pm but the cops have yet to call me in," said Salman Ansari, a mason, amongst the hundreds standing outside the police station. "My wife and a nine-month-old child are with me. We have not eaten anything all day, afraid to miss our turn (to get back our approved forms).
Police had asked me to come bag and baggage and now, I am informed that my train is not yet scheduled," Ansari said. As if this ordeal is not enough, at police stations in Deonar, Chembur, Govandi and others, migrants are forced to pass through disinfecting or sanitiser tunnels on the premises of the station houses.
"I had read that it is illegal to make a person go through such disinfecting tunnels. Even the guidelines of WHO prohibit it. But I am still being asked to go through it," said Kailas Singh, another migrant from Uttar Pradesh. It must be noted that even the city hospitals have stopped using such tunnels, obeying the WHO guidelines.
"But we have no choice but to get disinfected in this tunnel before entering the police station, as we have to get our work done," Singh said, helplessly. Surprisingly, higher-ranking police officials claim they have no idea about these disinfection tunnels in use.
DCP (operations) and spokesperson of Mumbai Police, Pranay Ashok, the authority in charge of communicating advisories and circulars to the local police stations, did not know about these tunnels being used. "I have no idea of this. We have not issued any circular for the police stations to use it.
In fact, we have asked everyone to abide by the WHO guidelines. No special instruction was given to local police stations on this," insisted DCP Ashok. It is learnt that these tunnels have been 'sponsored' by Rahul Shewale, the Shiv Sena parliamentarian from Mumbai South Central constituency.
Then there is the requirement which stipulates that the migrant workers cannot fill in their forms by themselves but must annex 29 more names, to get the requisite permission. Babloo Yadav, a photographer working at a local photo studio at Pydhonie, had to wait for two days to fill out a form.
“On May 4, I visited the Pydhonie Police station to procure the form. But police officers asked me to get 29 more names along with mine and only then would they accept my form. It took me another two days to convince others who were willing to return,” Yadav said.