Western Railway scrambles to accommodate migrant labour exodus from Udhna, Surat | Mumbai news

Mumbai: Western Railway (WR) authorities were left scrambling over the weekend to cater to thousands of migrant workers and daily-wage labourers who had congregated at Surat and Udhna railway stations looking to head home to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

WR scrambles to accommodate migrant labour exodus from Udhna, Surat
WR scrambles to accommodate migrant labour exodus from Udhna, Surat

This was after word had spread that WR was operating special trains to northern India from these railway stations, which attracted 15,000-17,000 workers from the industrial belts of Boisar in Maharashtra, and Tarapur and Surat in Gujarat.

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While migrant workers heading home during the summer is common, the exodus has turned out to be larger this year due to a variety of reasons, including the general elections, wedding season, crop harvesting season, and a new payment rule involving Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

WR authorities were caught unawares as thousands of workers and their family members marched to the Udhna and Surat railway stations with heavy luggage and started queueing up on platforms. WR officials in Surat and additional staff from Mumbai rushed to Udhna early Sunday morning to handle the crowd and avoid a stampede.

“The first thing we wanted to ensure was that regular passengers who had booked valid tickets and had reservations in regular trains did not face problems. Additional unreserved trains were decided to be put into action for smoother and faster dispersal,” said a senior WR official.

WR increased the number of summer special trains from Udhna and Surat to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar from two per day to four. From April 1-14, it had already operated 29 additional special trains from Udhna and Surat, out of which 18 were bound for the two northern states. Last year during the same period, WR had run only two special trains from Udhna and Surat.

To control the crowd, WR also deployed 100 railway police officers and 40 ticketing staff responsible for counselling passengers and informing them when the special trains would arrive. Announcements were made asking people to buy unreserved tickets and stand in queues. Ticket prices for the special trains ranged from 300-450 depending on the destination.

“We had not expected passengers to gather in large numbers. As per rough calculations, each of these four special unreserved trains ferried 3,500-4,000 passengers. We also provided bottled water to each passenger who bought tickets from the counters,” said the WR official.

While overcrowding at railway stations is common during the summer months, the upcoming general elections have added to the surge. But another major factor that would have added to the load this year is the Indian government’s new payment rule for MSMEs.

From April 1, companies are required to settle dues with their MSME partners within 45 days or face tax liabilities on the overdue amount. The previous deadline was 90 days. As a result, manufacturers asked their labourers to leave so that they could the wage money to pay off creditors.

“At least 50% of my daily wagers had to be asked to go,” said Abhisekh Tripathi, a textile manufacturer from Surat. “We have to first clear out our debtors, for which funds are required. Earlier, it used to be 90 days of credit limit, which has now become 45 days from April 1. So, we are focusing on clearing our existing stock and making payments, which impacted our production.”

Other reasons for the migrant worker exodus during the summer include weddings in the family and crop harvesting, where labourers earn good money, said a manufacturer from the Tarapur industrial belt in Maharashtra. “They start returning after June. Usually, we take fewer orders during the first quarter when production gets impacted.”

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