The journey of a thousand miles…The migrant saga of sorrow continues…

… even as trains open up in India.

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By Dr. Shirin Abbas, Edited By Adam Rizvi, USA, TheIndiaObserver, TIO: In the back and forth game of bus politics between the UP government and Priyanka
Gandhi—with the UP government pointing out that only 879 of the 1000buses offered by
the Congress to ply migrants home to Uttar Pradesh, the migrant is the loser. Left with no
choice, thousands, and many scores more are still on the roads…walking, cycling, hitching
rides any which way they can to reach home.

Migrants walking thousands of miles way back to their homes

Meanwhile, train ticket booking services opened at select counters from today.

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The Indian Railways opened its reservation counters at select stations for booking of only reserved
tickets from Friday, and within minutes all trains were fully booked.

Reservation of reserved tickets from common service centers (CSC) and through ticketing agents
It also started with effect from Friday.

These booking counters, as well as the CSCs, were shut since March 25 when a nationwide lockdown
to contain the spread of coronavirus began.

Earlier in the day, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said booking of train tickets will resume at around
1.7 lakh CSCs across the country from Friday, making the service accessible to those in remote
locations where the availability of computers and the internet is negligible or absent.

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We have to take India towards normalcy, he said.

The railways said the reservation counters will open from Friday in a phased manner along with
the dissemination of information about their respective locations and timings as per the local needs and
conditions.

It may be noted that the running of Shramik Special trains will continue to be handled by local state
governments as per the existing protocols. The opening of these booking facilities will significantly
reduce the burden on passengers, many of whom depend on counter tickets to travel,  it said. At
present, passengers can only book tickets for 15 pairs of special trains running on the Rajdhani route
and 100 pairs of special trains that are scheduled to begin operations from June 1.

As of now, tickets for these trains can only be booked online through the IRCTC portal.

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Domestic flights are also to open up from Monday as per a notification by the Civil Aviation Ministry.
However, airline officials have been taken by surprise by this sudden decision and have stated they
will try their best to comply with the instructions to re-open the airspace for domestic flights. The
government has issued a cap on the lowest and highest price of tickets and asked airlines to comply
with the same. Tickets thus will be in the range of 3500 INR to under 20000 INR. All seats will be
open for booking. The earlier decision to leave the middle seat vacant to comply with social
distancing norms has been waived.

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The sight at Ghaziabad’s Ram Leela ground, an Uttar Pradesh town bordering Delhi, looks
like a scene out of a local fair rather than a mission to ferry home migrants stuck during the
lockdown and trying to return home. The crowds there easily exceed 65000 with no care for
social distancing, jostling with each other to gradually inch forward in a queue that promises
them a ticket to return home.

Many here have been waiting for four days to get registered by officials in order to get on
buses that will take them to their homes in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand.
Some have walked hundreds of miles to reach here too, now tired, exhausted and at the end
of their tether, they care little to follow the social distancing norms advocated by the
government. “Corona se to baad mein marenge, hum pehley hi bhook se mar Jayenge,” (We
will die of hunger much before we die of Corona) migrant labor being interviewed by a
TV reporter breaks down in despair.

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For several weeks now stories of migrant laborers walking back with their families from
cities that have turned their backs to them have seared headlines in the media. Over 338
such migrant laborers have died in their attempts to return home—most in accidents on
highways and expressways as they boarded killer trucks ferrying construction and other
material to various states. Many have emptied their pockets entirely to hitch a ride back
home. It is very obvious to all that the government has failed to pre-empt the situation in a
rush to announce the lockdown on March 25 without considering the impact of the same on
the lives and livelihood of the thousands of migrants who had settled in India’s many cities
to provide cheap manpower to its industries, construction activities, and several other
smalltime occupations to earn a living. Turned out of their homes for being unable to pay
rent, with no means of earning their daily bread, they are forced to make a reverse
migration and return to their native towns and villages.

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Approximately 15000000 migrants have returned to Uttar Pradesh whereas a similar
number is heading back to other states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, and other states.
In view of the accidents, the UP Chief Minister recently announced dire punishment to
anyone ferrying these laborers back on trucks and other vehicles. After lockdown 4.0 was
announced on Monday extended to 31 st May, the Chief Minister has accepted the offer of
Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi to arrange 1000 buses to ferry back migrants from the state to
their home towns. On Saturday Congress president Rahul Gandhi reached the Sukhdev Vihar
flyover highway and spoke to some migrants headed for Madhya Pradesh, trying to
understand their problems. He asked them about their problems as they walked home amid
the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

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Gandhi sat on the pavement and gave the migrant workers a patient hearing and assured
them of help in reaching their homes, Congress leaders claimed, he talked to the workers
and heard their grievances.

Rahul Gandhi talking to migrant families, Photo: ANI

Sources close to Gandhi said he had an impromptu hour-long meeting with a group of 20
migrants, including women and children, walking from their worksite near Ambala to their

village near Jhansi. The meeting took place as they sat on the footpath on Mathura road in
the national capital.

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Mahesh Kumar, a migrant worker from Madhya Pradesh who along with 14 of his family
members were sitting at the footpath, narrated his tale of woe to the former Congress chief.
It was nice talking to him. At least someone heard us and our problems, he told reporters
later. Party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra later tweeted thanking Rahul Gandhi
and saying that someone has to talk to these migrant laborers and hear their ordeal.
A day after Rahul Gandhi held an impromptu hour-long meeting with a group of 20 migrants
in Delhi, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday called the Congress leader’s act
nothing but a “drama”.

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Calling Rahul Gandhi a “dramebaaz”, Sitharaman, while announcing the fifth and final
a tranche of the Rs 20 lakh crore economic stimulus package, said, “Rahul Gandhi’s act of
speaking for migrant laborers is drama.”

The Congress has been vocally critical of the government’s handling of the migrant
crisis even as hundreds of migrants have been walking or hitchhiking their way for days to
native villages.

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Compile By Abbasi

 

Shirin Abbas

Dr. Shirin Abbas is the Bureau Chief "TheIndiaObserver.Com". She is a world-renowned journalist, winner of several national and international awards for her contribution to Media Research.The first recipient of the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship for Print Journalism in 1999 from her state of Uttar Pradesh. Under the same, she studied at the School of Media, Communication, and Design at the University Of Westminster, London and interned with The Irish Times, Dublin. She has been a journalist for over three decades, working at several national English dailies in North India. She completed her PhD. in Mass Communication in 2016.

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