NEW DELHI: Ram (name changed), 19, knocked on many doors before he decided to walk from Gandhinagar in Gujarat to Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh. On Tuesday, he was walking in a group of 10 people.
“It is up to God if we can reach our destination. We tried the process of online booking for availing seats several times. We approached multiple people. We went to Sabarmati station. We sought assistance from the police. Different police booths gave different information. Eventually, nobody could help us out,” said the teenager.
“My parents are waiting for me at home. I am going for them,” he added.
While the Indian Railways is operating ‘Shramik Special’ trains, civil society organisations said the process lacked standardisation. On Tuesday, the Centre issued fresh guidelines saying the schedule, destination and stoppage of Shramik trains would be decided by the Railways based on requests from states.
The consent of states where the trains would terminate would not be necessary.
“The registration of migrant workers for travel back to their homes remains a botched up process. Every district has been allowed to devise its own system. The workers are unable to fill online forms as most of them are not literate. The process has also become a source of extraction for money for hapless workers,” said Sudhir Katiyar, secretary, Centre for Labour Research and Action.
Recently, the Stranded Workers Action Network had said after a review of the travel registration process that the procedures lacked clarity and migrant workers continued to be in distress on how to avail the services.
The orders from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the state travel orders had resulted in chaos among workers and administrators alike, the network had pointed out.
Nivedita Jayaram, researcher, Ajeevika Bureau pointed out it has been particularly difficult for long-distance migrant workers to return to their home states.
“It is taking longer to get their applications processed, and local offices are not able to deal with them on a fast-track basis. Large source states such as Bihar have been denying permission fearing the risk of infection being carried back to their states. Given that there are millions of migrant workers and only so many trains, the lack of communication, volume of applications, and difficulty in accessing information has made it all the more challenging,” said Jayaram.
Dhaniram Dhurwey, who is currently in a shelter home in Bangalore, spent days on the road after he thought he could return home after he saw the announcement that trains to start to ferry migrant workers.
“We thought we would get trains to go back home and left the accommodation. There is no information about when we can travel. We have filled forms and visited a number of police stations. Every person directs you to another person. There is no clarity,” said Dhurwey, who hails from Madhya Pradesh.
“The process continues to be arbitrary. From our experience in Karnataka, we saw the workers who were approaching the police stations had more chances of getting allotments than the others,” said Seema Mundoli, a faculty member at Azim Premji University and a member of SWAN.