After facing strong criticism from all quarters for charging exorbitant fares to transport workers and others stranded across Karnataka due to COVID-19 lockdown, the state government has announced that they will ferry migrants to their respective districts without any fare for three days starting from Sunday. The services will be available till Tuesday.
Protesting against the decision of the B S Yeddyurappa-led BJP government in the state to charge nearly double rates, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) on Sunday donated ₹1 crore to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) to make free ferrying of stranded workers to their natives available.
KPCC president-designate D.K.Shivakumar in a letter to KSRTC MD said that the amount be used to ferry stranded migrants. "If necessity arises, KPCC is ready to contribute more," the letter said.
On Monday, two trains are scheduled to depart from the state. The trains will depart to Jaipur in Rajasthan and Patna in Bihar, the government said in a statement, adding food and water arrangements have been made for passengers before the travel. Sharing further details about the labourers and people traveling to other states, the statement added that on Sunday, two trains left for Patna in Bihar and one each to Ranchi in Jharkhand and Bhubaneswar in Odisha. Four trains carrying 4,800 people have left for their destination on Sunday, it said.
Trains have been also been run from Kerala and Telangana in the past few days to various destinations for the benefit of guest workers stranded there.
Initially, the KSRTC had been charging double fares from the stranded workers and people. Charging of this two-way fares had continued till Saturday afternoon. Only the workers who had money had got tickets and were able to leave. Many families and workers were forced to wait since they could not afford the charges. For example, KSRTC had charged Rs 1,984 from Bengaluru to Bidar, a distance of 600 km. It is located in the North East region of the state.
Many of the workers who have lost their jobs due to lockdown had thronged the Majestic bus station in Bengaluru following information about transportation being made available. But a majority of them could not afford the fare. Pushpalatha H, who wants to go to Kalaburgi, said, "There are no jobs for more than a month and now the bus fare is also high. I don’t know how to reach my home town. The government should provide us free transport.”
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After protests from many corners, the Chief Minister on Sunday announced that free bus services will be available and the expenses will be borne by the government.
"The free bus service announced for migrant workers is going on smoothly and it has been extended for two more days," he said in a statement. The free bus facility was initially started for three days till Tuesday, but for the benefit of labourers and people it has been extended till Thursday, he said.
Labourers and people should not congregate at bus stands and should peacefully travel to their native places, he added.
An estimated 30,000 people travelled to their native places on Sunday as 951 Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) buses were pressed into service. On Monday, already 1,500 people have begun their journey in 50 buses, the statement said, adding that in Bengaluru 550 and in other cities of the state 400 buses have been reserved for this purpose.
On Saturday, an estimated 16,500 passengers have travelled to their native in 550 buses, it said. On Saturday, Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) operated 120 buses from Majestic in Bengaluru to various districts in which 3,600 people had travelled paying single charge.
Statistics from State
As of Monday evening, Karnataka has reported as many as 614 COVID-19 cases. Of this, 293 have recovered and 25 have died. The districtwise data shows that Bengaluru had the highest number of positive cases with 101 confirmed infections.
While on Sunday, a fresh 21 COVID-19 cases were reported from Davangere district. The district which comes under a green zone, recorded the highest single-day rise among all of the state's districts.
Residents “Celebrate” Reopening of Liquor Shops
Customers welcomed the resumption of liquor sales in a spirited fashion in Karnataka on Monday, thronging stores hours before shutters went up at several places and made no secret of their celebratory mood.
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At some places, they flocked liquor shops even before day-break and performed "special prayers" with flowers, coconuts,incense sticks, camphor and crackers in front of the stores.
Liquor outlets had been shut in the state from March 25, following the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Excise revenue loss during the period was about Rs 2,500 crore, according to government sources.
About 4,500 standalone liquor outlets (CL-2 and CL- 11 licence holders), which comprise wine stores and those owned by state-run Mysore Sales International Limited, outside containment zones have been allowed to be opened from Monday from 9 AM to 7 PM with some restrictions.
These include customers compulsorily wearing facemasks and maintaining social distancing with not more than five people inside liquor shops. Many customers were indeed well-prepared.
At many places, they came with umbrella, raincoat, newspapers and books and queued up as early as 3 AM. At a liquor shop in Salegame Road in Hassan, the tipplers lit the traditional lamp and incense sticks, performed 'aarati' with camphor and decorated the store with the garland of flowers. With folded hands, they all performed 'special prayers'. In Mandya, the tipplers queued up before Martaanda liquor shop before dawn. An hour before the sales were to resume, a few people burst crackers in celebration.
Some tipplers in Belagavi were more "enterprising." They went to a liquor store on Sunday night itself, performed special prayers and placed their "representatives" in the form of slippers, bags and stones in the "social distancing boxes" they themselves had drawn so that they don't have to stand in queue in the morning.
At the taluk headquarters town of Brahmavara in the coastal Udupi district, the queues of wine shops were reported to be almost half-a-kilometre. Long queues were seen at liquor stores at Mariyappana, Palyaand, K R Puram, among others, in Bengaluru. The store managers, too, were no less cautious while dealing with customers. They let the customers enter after spraying sanitisers in their hands, and allowed only those who had worn masks and maintained social distancing
To maintain law and order, authorities had deployed policemen in good numbers at these stores and they were seen on duty ensuring that customers maintained social distancing.
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(With inputs from PTI)