The Karnataka government on Wednesday decided to restart running special trains to take migrant workers to their home states from May 8, a move that comes against the backdrop of widespread outrage over its step to stop the services. The nodal officer for the state, Manjunath Prasad has written to nine states seeking permission to send stranded labourers, students, tourists, pilgrims and others.
The letters of request have gone to Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Tripura, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha. The request is for running two trains every day to Odisha, West Bengal, UP, Bihar and Jharkhand, one train each day to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan from May 8 to 15 and one train daily to Manipur and Tripura from May 8 till all the stranded people are transported.
Consent has been received from Bihar to run one train a day from May 8 to 15 while the remaining eight states are yet to respond.
The Karnataka government decided to stop these services on Tuesday, incidentally after a meeting with builders in the city. Three trains scheduled on Wednesday for Bihar were cancelled after the nodal officer in-charge of migrants' movements wrote to the railways stating the services were not required.
"About 10,000 labourers who wanted to go to Bihar were at the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC). They said they wanted to go home following which we requested the railways for trains. Yesterday (Tuesday), (chief minister) Yediyurappa held a meeting with construction agencies — Metro, BIAL and all infrastructure projects which are going on. The CM directed them to start all work immediately.
Afterwards, migrant labourers at BIEC were all told that work will start. They were also told about the chief minister’s meeting. All of them have gone back. We have informed that trains scheduled for Wednesday will not be required. Three trains scheduled for Bihar now stand cancelled," Manjunath Prasad had told CNN-News18.
A senior official in the labour department clarified that the decision was not influenced by the builder lobby but was due to difficulty in managing and transporting thousands of migrant labourers while avoiding the risk of a bigger spread of Covid-19.
However, the decision to stop the train services sparked a severe backlash and criticism against the BS Yediyurappa government. Reports have highlighted how many labourers continue to work in deplorable conditions in Karnataka with no social distancing and hygiene. There are more than two lakh migrant labourers in the state from different parts of the country, as well as Bangladesh and Nepal.
Indian Youth Congress national president Srinivas BV submitted an application of intervention to the Karnataka High Court for urgent hearing on the "ongoing violation of human rights carried out by the Karnataka state government".