New Delhi: Migrant workers in large numbers gathered at a bus stand in Mumbai on Tuesday afternoon demanding transport arrangements to go back to their native places, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nation-wide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus has been extended till May 3.
A video showed thousands of people assembling at suburban Bandra (West) bus depot near the railway station, with the police saying the incident took place at around 4pm. Visuals showed the police caning several people in order to disperse them, while others run helter-skelter.
The police said they are investigating how so many people came to assemble in one place in contravention of the lockdown orders, adding the crowd has since been dispersed.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah called Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and expressed concern over the gathering, stressing such events weaken the country's fight against the coronavirus and the administration needs to stay vigilant to avoid such incidents. He also offered his full support to the state government.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said the migrant workers may have thought Modi had ordered the opening of state borders. They were told by the police that borders are not going to be opened and the situation was now under control, he said.
The migrants were assured that the state government will make arrangement of food and accommodation for them, following which the crowds dispersed, he said.
"Lakhs of workers from other states work in Mumbai. They expected the PM would open the state borders today. They felt they could go back to their home states," said Deshmukh. "But the PM and CM (Uddhav Thackeray) took a very good decision to extend the lockdown. The state borders will remain sealed. Permission will not be given to go to other states from Maharashtra."
However, Maharashtra Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray blamed the Centre for the protest and sought a roadmap to facilitate the migrant workers' journey back to their native places.
In a series of tweets, Thackeray said the situation in Bandra or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the central government being unable to take a call on arranging a way back home from the migrant labourers.
"They don't want food or shelter, they want to go back home," he said, adding that a mutual roadmap drawn up with the Union government will help migrant labourers travel from one state to another during the lockdown and reach their homes.
Thackeray said feedback from all migrant labour camps is similar - that they want to go back to their native places. "Many are refusing to eat or stay in these camps," he said.
Thackeray said more than six lakh people are currently housed in several shelter camps across the state.
Another protest in Thane
In a separate protest, hundreds of migrant workers took to the streets of Mumbra town in Thane district demanding they be sent to their hometowns.
Workers, mostly from Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and UP and living in rented accommodations, claimed houseowners were demanding rent and they were unable to procure essentials. Agitated workers took to the streets and demanded that the state government arrange transportation to their hometowns.
Senior inspector Khanya Thorat of the Mumbra police station pacified the crowd and convinced them to return to their living quarters after a couple of hours. He also urged houseowners to postpone rent collection for a couple of months as workers were currently jobless because of the lockdown.
Daily-wage workers have been rendered jobless since the lockdown was announced late last month to stem the spread of COVID-19, making their life a constant struggle. Although authorities and NGOs have made arrangements for their food, most of them want to return to their native places to escape the hardships brought about by the sweeping curbs.
According to a police official, the daily-wage earners numbering around 1,000 assembled at the suburban Bandra (West) bus depot near the railway station and squatted on road at around 3 pm. Residing on rent in slums in nearby Patel Nagri locality, they were demanding arrangement of transport facilities in order to return to their native towns and villages. Most of them hail from states like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
One of the labourers, who did not reveal his name, said that NGOs and local residents are providing them food, adding they want to go back to their native state during the lockdown.
"Now we don't want food, we want to go back to our native place, we are not happy with the announcement (extending the lockdown)," he said.
Heavy police deployment was made at the protest sit to tackle any untoward incident. Personnel from other police stations were called in to maintain order, the official added.
With PTI inputs