Special trains, buses for migrants cause registration rush, give no time to pack

Migrants are being charged thrice the price for bus tickets to go back home

migrant train

On Friday, May 1st which was also Labour Day, the Centre issued an order allowing the movement of special trains to ferry migrant workers and others stranded outside their home states due to the lockdown. This order was issued several hours after the first train carrying 1,200 migrants had left Telangana for Jharkhand, reported The Telegraph.

The railway ministry would designate nodal officers to coordinate with the states and Union Territories and would issue guidelines for sale of tickets, and social distancing and other safety measures, the order said.

Haphazard planning

After pressure from the Opposition and the state goverments, it allowed special trains to evacuate stranded migrants, students, pilgrims and tourists. “On the occasion of Labour Day, the railway ministry has decided to run “Shramik Special” trains to transport migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students,” an official said.

After the first train from Telangana to Jharkhand, the railway ministry cleared six trains for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha. Economic Times reports that the trains will operate from one point to another point on the request of the sender and receiver states. Passengers will be screened by sender states and only asymptomatic persons will be allowed to travel. “They will be ferried in limited groups to railway station using buses from shelter camps. Social-distancing norms have to be followed and all passengers will have to use face covers, or masks,” a home ministry official said.

Prior to this, the Centre had plans of ferrying the migrant labourers back home by bus. However this decision was contended by many states. Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi pointed out, “But the number of those wanting to return is likely to be huge. If we depend on buses, the process could take months to complete.”

Telangana Animal Husbandry Minister T Srinivas Yadav also said that it would take about three to five days for people from states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to return to Telangana by bus.  

Also, searches on microblogging site Twitter revealed that many people, even after the Centre issued guidelines, were asking officials from various states for registration links for the migration process. This reveals that there has been no list of nodal offices provided and no clear guidelines on what needs to be done for registration.




Rushing to register and pack

Again, just like the announcement of the lockdown, the announcement of the special trains was made giving only a 4 hour buffer to the people to pack and be ready.

Vasudev Singh told The Indian Express that he was sleeping when the announcement of the special trains was made. Officials came to the makeshift labour colony at Sangareddy, some 40 km from Hyderabad, around 11 pm Thursday and told them to pack their bags; they were going home. “We packed a few clothes and rushed. We were screened, given token numbers, asked to show our Aadhaar cards, and then told to board buses. Around 2 am we left for the train station,” says the 45-year-old construction worker from Garhwa in Jharkhand.

In Mumbai, many rushed to the Dharavi police station, a red zone in Mumbai, to fill up forms to travel back home. Social distancing was completely violated because of no process from the state in place.



Along with trains, buses are operating in some areas to ensure the return of migrants, especially inter-state. However, even this process is riddled with loopholes and is unclear. The News Minute reported that hundreds of people turned up at the Majestic Bus Stand at Bengaluru on Saturday morning in a hope to find buses to take them home. There were construction workers, students, electricians and carpenters, among those looking for a ticket home.

However, another state apathy is that the government is charging exorbitant rates to ferry migrants home. People who are booking bus tickets, have paid three times the normal price.



“The prices are three times higher because the buses are taking only 30 people even though there are 55 seats. We are charging the minimum fare of Rs 39 per kilometre and we are also counting the fare for the return trip the bus has to take to come back to Bengaluru,” KL Manjunath, a KSRTC official told TNM.

 Many workers claim that the officials were indifferent to their queries. In Karnataka, buses operated only outside red zones and preference was given to places where a large number of people wanted to go.

In Gurugram, TOI reported that the district administration asked sarpanches of all villages to carry out registration and compile details of migrant workers who want to go home. However, the move has stoked confusion as the department hasn’t made it clear as to when the movement of these migrants will happen.

Sarpanchs are still not clear about how to proceed and fear that workers may get their names registered and start leaving immediately for bus depots hoping to get transportation immediately. Many villages have even suspended the exercise seeking clarity and guidance from the administration.

“I’m not going ahead with registration as of now. I’ve asked the gram sachiv to visit us and guide us on the entire procedure. I don’t understand the exact purpose of this exercise. Many are assuming that after getting registered, they can pack their bags and leave. I want the officials to give me a clear picture and a set of answers for the queries villagers are coming up with,” said Kankrola village sarpanch Fakir Chand.

Reports coming in from all quarters only scream of unpreparedness. Migrants have been facing the brunt of the Centre’s inefficiency ever since the lockdown had been announced on March 25. Even the respite now is full of hurdles. Whether the authorities pull up their socks to get rid of these loopholes and ensure the safe return of the migrant population will only be revealed in time. 


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