Mumbai: Migrants from the Konkan region stranded in Mumbai, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, are a woebegone lot. All businesses are shut, there are no jobs or money to be had and they cannot go back home, as there is a ban on travel within the state.
These people, surviving on meagre wages, were hoping that the state and Union government would make travel arrangements for them, either through trains or buses. However, the state government seems to have forgotten about them. To add to their misery, while the Indian Railways has announced the resumption of 200 passenger trains services from June 1, there is no train for Konkan migrants.
Dismayed by this situation, several of those stranded are accusing the government of meting out step-motherly treatment. Shekar Bhagave, 53, a migrant said, "The government is only bothered about migrants hailing from northern states but providing no relief to those at home. There is no train for us, while the state-run buses are charging Rs 44/km. How can we poor migrants afford to spend Rs 2,000 per family member in this difficult time?
"For going to Konkan, which is about 500 kilometres from Mumbai, the asking rate is Rs 2,000 by bus or private vehicle, while a migrant from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar or Jharkhand, which is about 1,600 kilometres from Maharashtra is paying only Rs 1,800. Apart from this, they are being provided with masks and food packets by Railways."
Meanwhile, he asserted that if the government wants them to cooperate and not rush to train terminuses or walk on the highways like the northern migrants did, they should be provided sufficient rations.
"In Vasai, we are about 4,000 migrants from Konkan. We were working in small industries but as businesses are shut, we are not getting salaries for the last two months. We are living by borrowing money from friends and relatives. No help is forthcoming from the government. We are the worst-affected," he said.
Pandurang Raut, 40, another migrant from Konkan, has a similar story. He said, "I have a wife, a nine-year old daughter and a sister. Having no income, as my company has stopped paying my salary, I am finding it hard to manage my family's daily needs. I want to go back to my village because I have a nice, spacious house and the cost of living there is lower than in Mumbai. I am living in a chawl here, one of the most vulnerable places to be in the current pandemic situation, as maintaining social distancing is not possible. At least at home in my village, we will not die of Covid."
Recently, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had said in a public address on social media, "We have to keep green zones intact. Have patience and avoid travel to Konkan or western Maharashtra this summer."
On the other hand, the Vasai-Sawantwadi Railway Pravashi Sanghtana (Union) secretary Yashwant Jadyar has appealed to Railways to start some passengers trains for Konkan region also. He told The Free Press Journal, "Lakhs of migrants from Konkan are stranded in Mumbai and if some travel arrangements are made, they too can go back to their villages like other state migrants. Of these lakhs of stranded migrants, about 8,000 are currently in Mumbai, living in extreme situation for lack of money and food."
Meanwhile, the passenger trains resuming operations from June 1 are mostly for Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha destinations, apart from the existing Shramik specials. An official from Central Railways, Mumbai, confirmed that in the list of 200 trains starting from June 1, there are none for Konkan.
The reason, according to the Railways, is: "Maharashtra government has informed railways that inter-district travel is prohibited in the state of Maharashtra. It is therefore desired that the tickets of all passengers whose originating as well as terminating stations fall within Maharashtra be cancelled and full refund be given without deduction of any cancellation charges etc.”