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Thousands of migrant labourers assemble outside Mumbai station hoping to reach homes

Migrant workers gather outside Bandra West Railway Station as they defy lockdown norms and request to leave for their native places after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the extension of nationwide lockdown till May 3 in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, in Mumbai. (PTI)Premium
Migrant workers gather outside Bandra West Railway Station as they defy lockdown norms and request to leave for their native places after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the extension of nationwide lockdown till May 3 in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, in Mumbai. (PTI)

  • This was the first time Maharashtra and Mumbai witnessed unrest during the virus outbreak
  • Migrant workers had arrived at the railway station expecting normal services to resume

MUMBAI : Thousands of migrant workers gathered at a train station in Mumbai’s Bandra suburb on Tuesday, prompting the police to make baton charges to disperse the crowd.

The workers, from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, had arrived at the station expecting normal train services would resume at the end of a 21-day countrywide lockdown on Tuesday. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi instead announced an extension until 3 May to contain the spread of covid-19.

“Migrant workers who gathered near Bandra station in Mumbai may have thought PM Modi had ordered opening of state borders," said Anil Deshmukh, Maharashtra’s home minister. He said that the crowd was later dispersed and the situation is under control.

In videos that went viral earlier in the day, policemen wielding batons could be seen trying to reason with the workers that the lockdown has not been lifted and the covid-19 pandemic is still a serious concern. Police had to resort to use of force to disperse the crowd.

Most of the migrant labourers are worried about the uncertainty due to the lockdown that was first imposed on 25 March and were hoping to return to their native places.

This was the first time Mumbai and Maharashtra had witnessed an unrest during the covid-19 outbreak. Other states like Delhi saw mass exodus of migrant workers, many walking on foot for hundreds of kilometres to reach their homes. Maharashtra has so far been able to manage its large migrant population by setting up labour camps while corporates and non-profit organizations also pitched in with their efforts.

“The current situation at Bandra station, now dispersed or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the Union government not being able to take a call on arranging a way back home for migrant labour. They don’t want food or shelter, they want to go back home," tweeted Aaditya Thackarey, a cabinet minister in the Maharashtra government.

Thackeray said the Maharashtra government had been requesting the Centre to run trains for 24 hours so that the daily wage earners and migrant labourers could return home.

He later said in a separate tweet that the “Centre has taken immediate cognizance of the issue and is assisting the state actively. We understand the catch 22 situation Centre and states face. I’m thankful to PM & HM for understanding the situation, while trying to ensure the safety of home states of migrants."

Meanwhile, worried about the high mortality rate in Mumbai, the Maharashtra government has formed a nine-member taskforce of specialist doctors from public and private hospitals to prepare a protocol for treating critically-ill covid-19 patients and recommend a uniform drug protocol.

The state has asked the task force, led by Dr Sanjay Oak, former dean of Mumbai’s KEM Hospital, to submit its recommendations to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray at the earliest.

The order issued by the state government on Monday said also that chief medical officers of all hospitals where covid-19 patients have died will have to submit a report to the committee.

Despite the Mumbai city corporation’s containment efforts, the number of covid-19 cases and deaths are climbing steadily each day. Maharashtra’s infection and fatality rate are far higher than the rest of India’s, with the fatality rate staying firm at between 6.5-7%.

Maharashtra on Tuesday reported 178 deaths against 2,684 infections, a mortality rate of 6.63%. In comparison, other states that have crossed the 1,000-mark in infections have much lower mortality rates. Delhi had 28 deaths against 1,510 infections (mortality rate of 1.85%) and Tamil Nadu has reported 11 deaths against 1,173 infections, a mortality rate of 0.93%.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) said that 87% of covid-19 deaths in the city had co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease while 7-8% were in the high-risk age group.

More worryingly, patients are dying soon after hospital admission. According to the MCGM, of the nine deaths in the city on Sunday, three had been admitted to the hospital earlier the same day and two on the previous day.

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