Thousands march towards Bangalore exhibition centre in hope of getting home


As those walking home along the highways were rounded up, housed in the Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) and put on trains by government authorities, the Centre has emerged as a new focal point of hope for migrant labourers desperate to go home. Inspired by their friends who found a berth on that elusive train home from BIEC, thousands are marching towards the Centre, overwhelming the facility.

On Monday, over a thousand labourers mostly headed to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, were not allowed into the centre, leading to some tension.

“Our friends who began walking home a week ago to Bihar were picked up by the police and brought to BIEC. They have already reached home on a train. They called and asked us to somehow get into BIEC to get both food and a train home. We are a group of four who spent nearly ₹1,000 to get here in an autorickshaw from Bommanahalli. But here the police caned us and chased us away from the Centre,” rued Subodh Paswan, 26, from Muzzafarpur, Bihar working as a construction worker.

He was among a group of over 30 migrant workers on a trek along Tumakuru Road back towards the city on Monday evening. “We want to go home. The building we were working in got completed and we haven’t found any new work. We are out of money and even struggling to get two meals a day. We are desperate to go home. We also came to BIEC because my friend who is inside told me they are also giving three meals a day,” said Ramakrishna Pandit from Gorakhpur district, Uttar Pradesh.

K.V. Sharath Chandra, IGP, Central Range, who visited BIEC over the issue, told The Hindu that though the centre could house 10,000 persons, the optimal capacity in the present circumstances was only 4,000, given social distancing and the number of toilets available (130) at the centre. “The facility was created at BIEC for those walking back home on foot, rounded up and brought here by the police. But taking a cue from their friends, people have begun walking to the centre. We were full today, so we had to send them back,” he explained.

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But Lekha Adavi, a labour activist at BIEC alleged that the police forced the migrants into buses which reportedly dropped them off at K.R. Market. “There is space to accommodate more people in the Centre and authorities must arrange mobile toilets if that is limiting the centre’s capacity,” she said.

All five halls in the BIEC has migrant labourers. On Monday, they were seen watching Hindi films being screened for them. “Managing the crowds is an issue. So we decided to screen films to keep them engaged,” said Ravi B. Chennannavar, SP, Bengaluru Rural district.

With 900 people housed in BIEC leaving for their home on a train Monday evening, the occupancy dropped to 3,200 and authorities decided to let 800 more people in. “We are a group of six painters who came walking from Marathahalli to BIEC. But the police here chased us away in the evening. But as we were walking back, they again called us and let us in,” said Mohammed Riyaz, from Jharkhand.

Meanwhile, authorities are considering opening up two more temporary shelters to manage migrant labourers walking the streets. “We are considering opening such centres in Kanteerava Indoor Stadium and Palace Grounds,” said Sarfaraz Khan, Joint Commissioner, BBMP.

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Sagar Biswas

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