Mumbai: Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced extension of the coronavirus-triggered lockdown till May 3, thousands of migrant workers hit the streets in Bandra here demanding transport arrangements to go back to their native places.
More than thousand daily wage earners assembled, ignoring lockdown norms, at suburban Bandra (West) bus depot near the railway station and squatted on road around 3pm, police said.
It created a potential law and order situation for an overstretched police force and the men in uniform resorted to mild force to scatter the crowd.
A police official said the migrants were dispersed two hours later and have been assured accommodation and food till the lockdown lasts.
The daily wage earners were demanding arrangement of transport facilities so that they can go back to their native towns and villages.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said the migrant workers who gathered outside Bandra railway station might have expected that the PM would order reopening of state borders.
They were told by the police that borders are not going to be opened and the situation was now under control, Deshmukh said.
The migrants were assured that the state government will make arrangement of food and accommodation for them, following which the crowds dispersed, the minister said.
The gathering triggered a blame-game between the Shiv Sena-led government and the opposition BJP.
Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray blamed the Centre for the protest by the migrant workers and sought a road map to facilitate their journey back to their native places.
In a series of tweets, Thackeray said, "The current situation in Bandra, 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 migrant labour."
Describing the Bandra gathering as an intelligence failure, former BJP MP Kirit Somaiya said the state government should explain how so many people gathered at a spot despite the lockdown.
Asadullah Sheikh, who hails from from Malda in West Bengal, said, "We have spent our savings during the first phase of the lockdown. We have nothing to eat now, we just want to go back at our native place, the government should made arrangements for us."
Migrant unrest elsewhere
The gathering in Mumbai came close on the heels of a violent protest last week by migrant workers in Surat, who, too, were demanding that they be sent back to their native places.
Daily wage workers have been rendered jobless ever since the lockdown was announced late last month to stem the spread of COVID-19, making their life a constant struggle.
Though authorities and NGOs have made arrangements for their food, most of them want to go back to their native places to escape the hardship brought by the sweeping curbs on movement of people. Train and bus services were suspended as part of the lockdown exercise.
Last month, in a similar incident hundreds of inter-state migrant labourers living in Paippad in Kerala's Kottayam district took to the streets demanding transport facilities to return to their home states.
The labourers dispersed only after the district administration assured them of free food and accommodation till the end of the lockdown period.
Many of India's estimated 120 million migrant labourers who earn a living in Mumbai and Delhi, got just four hours to shift to their far away native places.
As thousands started to go by foot to their native places, reports of police atrocities on the hapless labourers also poured in, sparking outrage.