More than 1,500 migrants had gathered at the railway station, demanding that they be sent back to their homes in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand in view of the extended lockdown and were lathi-charged by police before they dispersed.
Late Tuesday evening, police had filed FIRs against Vinay Dubey, a political worker, and Rahul Kulkarni, a journalist from ABP Majha. Dubey was picked up on Tuesday night from his Airoli residence and arrested early on Wednesday for instigating migrants to gather at stations to board trains. He had put up several videos urging migrants to reach Kurla’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus on April 18 and said he would help them get home. He had also asked workers to protest against the government for not facilitating their movement.
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Kulkarni was held from Osmanabad, district superintendent of police Raj Roshan confirmed, for airing a news report on Tuesday saying the railways had decided to run Jansadharan special trains in order to allow stranded labourers to go home.
A Bandra police officer said nine migrant workers identified with the help of CCTV cameras have also been arrested for creating a ruckus outside Bandra station.
While Dubey was produced before court and remanded in police custody till April 21, DCP (zone IX) Abhishek Trimukhe said Kulkarni and the nine workers would be brought to court on Thursday.
Apart from these three FIRs, Bandra police had initially on Tuesday registered their first offence against 800 to 1,000 unknown accused (migrant workers) for unlawful assembly and rioting. Police are collecting information on those who had assembled.
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The Kamothe police on Wednesday also arrested a social activist Kamlesh Dubey (26) and his aide Mohammad Ansari (45), a labourer, for making and circulating a video featuring 10-12 people at the Sakharam Mhatre chawl. The two accused claimed in the video that migrant workers had neither food nor money (which police said was not true), demanded the government send workers back and allegedly instigated workers. PSI Rohit Bandgar of Kamothe police station said, “We are probing if Kamlesh Dubey, who claims to be a social worker in UP, has any links with Vinay Dubey.”
Kulkarni had on Tuesday night posted a letter of the railways on Facebook, saying it had been leaked from the office of chief commercial manager (passenger marketing), South Central Railway, Secunderabad, and claimed his news was source-based. But on Wednesday, South Central Railway tweeted: “CLARIFICATION: A communication related to internal planning of SCR to assess demand for train services is being misinterpreted in some sections as decision to run spl trains for migrant labour. There is NO such proposal & ALL Passenger Trains stands CANCELLED till 03.05.2020.”
CLARIFICATION: A communication related to internal planning of SCR to assess demand for train services is being mis… https://t.co/RnLLulUXTS
— SouthCentralRailway (@SCRailwayIndia) 1586925983000
While state public works minister Ashok Chavan demanded a probe into Tuesday’s incident and alleged some elements wanted to “disturb communal harmony and negate the state’s efforts to fight the pandemic,” NCP spokesperson and minorities minister Nawab Malik denied allegations made by some on social media that Dubey was an NCP worker. He said there was a “malicious campaign to tarnish the party’s image.”
NCP chief Sharad Pawar urged political parties not to try and score political points over Covid-19 but to “take steps to defeat coronavirus.”
Bandra’s BJP MLA Ashish Shelar said one of the reasons for discontent among migrant workers was their inability to connect with families over phone. “Their pre-paid limits have been exhausted, retail shops are closed and many have no access to online recharge. Arrangements must be made so they can speak to their families,” Shelar said in a letter to Mumbai suburban guardian minister Aaditya Thackeray.
ABP Majha said in a statement, “There is no conceivable way in which the crowds that gathered at the station can be linked to our stories. We will take legal steps, we have not deviated from practices of responsible journalism. We would like to say that before journalists are arrested, there should be due verification of all facts.”
-Inputs by Clara Lewis and Prafulla Marpakwar