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Mumbai, March 21, 2020
Amid a near-total shutdown in the country's commercial capital, several thousands of panicky migrant labour from different parts of India are leaving the city daily to escape the clutches of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as the state led with 63 cases on Saturday.
Since the past four-five days, various railway termini in the city, particularly the Central Railway (CR), have witnessed hordes of migrant workers jostling to catch trains bound for Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Haryana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and other locations.
Migrant labourers from different parts of India form a significant chunk of the state's workforce with many working in Mumbai, Raigad, Thane, Palghar districts, besides Pune and Nagpur.
Many apprehend that they would face pay-cuts or job losses, but a Maharashtra government order has decreed all public and private sector companies not to cut wages or terminate casual, temporary or contractual workers.
"The termination of employee from the job or reduction in wages in this scenario would further deepen the crisis and will not only deepen the financial condition of the employee but also hamper their morale to combat their fight with this epidemic," Maharashtra Commissioner of Labour Mahendra Kalyankar said.
Kalyankar added that if any worker takes leave, he/she should be deemed to be on duty without consequential deduction in wages of this period with the coronavirus pandemic, in tune with the appeals made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
Among many, the Tata Sons Chairman N. Chandrasekaran announced protecting salaries of all temporary/casual staff, while Bohra Group Chairman Pratap S. Bohra said all its staffers, permanent/temporary in the state have been sent home with full advance pay for March and the group was prepared for a similar situation next month if needed.
The problems of the migrants hopeful of returning to the safe havens of their native homes were compounded with the Central Railway (CR), Western Railway WR) and Konkan Railway (KR) together cancelling around 275 long-distance trains till March 31.
"We have confirmed tickets, but our seats are occupied by waitlisted passengers. We don't know how we shall make the long journey to Patna," said a worried Ramkishore Shahi who was travelling with his wife and two minor children.
He was not the only one, as passengers - many sporting masks - in other trains also faced a similar predicament with the trains going almost over-full - in stark contrast to all efforts of the state and central health authorities to avoid crowding and implement 'social distancing'.
Despite the train cancellations, a CR official said that the crowds may increase further over the next few days as Maharashtra government cancelled all school examinations for Class I-VIII this year, prompting more to leave.
While Mumbai wore a near-desolate look today as more and more chose to remain indoors, the crowds of migrants at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Dadar Terminus, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Thane, Kalyan stations became a matter of concern for railway, health and security authorities alike.
While over two dozen CR trains depart for various destinations in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odish, officials of WR and KR assured that the migrant rush issue is minimal on their sectors with bare minimum passengers travelling for dire emergencies only.
Besides Mumbai, Thane and Palghar, migrants without permanent jobs/accommodation are also rushing out of Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Nashik and other towns as the COVID-19 slowly tightens it grip around the state.
There are reports of local migration from Mumbai and Pune -- the two worst-hit districts -- either to neighbouring districts or their native places, particularly in the Konkan and Marathwada regions.