Desperate to get home, migrants mortgage their plots for loans
With private agencies charging upwards of Rs 4,000 per adult for a seat on a bus to West Bengal, Jharkhand, or Bihar, some workers had to get loans, while others had to mortgage their assets to be able to afford the trip. If one person fell short, another pitched in however possible.Updated: May 21, 2020 02:18 IST
New Delhi: Desperate to get home and exasperated by what seems like an unending wait to register for a Shramik Special train, around 250 workers in Shahpur Jat have spent every last penny they had, and beyond, to hire private buses for their journeys.
With private agencies charging upwards of Rs 4,000 per adult for a seat on a bus to West Bengal, Jharkhand, or Bihar, some workers had to get loans, while others had to mortgage their assets to be able to afford the trip. If one person fell short, another pitched in however possible.
According to migrants in the south Delhi area, between Sunday night and early Monday morning, around 250 workers left in six buses. All of them were employed in embroidering work at Shahpur Jat, which houses a number of upmarket clothing stores. But since the lockdown, there has been no work, and their scant savings have run out.
Each bus seated between 70 and 75 people, and none of the passengers were issued medical screening certificates, throwing the guidelines for inter-state travel to the wind.
Hamidul Manjhi, who left for his village in West Bengal’s Paschim Medinipur district on Monday morning, had only reached Jharkhand on Wednesday noon.
“We had to leave as we had run out of money here and there was no way to survive any longer. My two brothers in the village took a loan of around Rs 25,000 from a moneylender that they transferred so we could afford the bus tickets. My father is bed-ridden and my mother recently had a paralysis attack. My brothers said she might die any time, and we must reach before it’s too late,” Manjhi, 35, said on a phone call. He is travelling with his wife, two children, brother, sister-in-law and their two children. They had to pay Rs 4,250 each for five persons, including his 11-year-old son.
The family of one of his co-workers at Shahpur Jat, Mafizul, had to mortgage a plot to send him money.
“My parents are very worried, because they have nobody to take care of them. This is the harvest time, and I was supposed to be home. I ran out of money here,” said Mafizul, who is also travelling to Paschim Medinipur with his wife and three children.
As per the Centre’s norms, private buses ferrying migrants are allowed to move within the city and across borders only with valid inter-state transit passes issued by the district authorities. The passes are issued only after passengers are screened and the destination state permits the travel. A 50-seater bus is allowed to have only 25 passengers to maintain social distancing. Drivers are required to disinfect the buses before and after a trip.
However, the district authorities and police denied having issued any such permission for these buses to leave Shahpur Jat. BM Mishra, district magistrate (south) said, “We have not issued any permission for private buses to ferry migrants. If that is the case, enforcement agencies at the city’s borders must look into it. We are in the process of issuing permission for only one group that has hired a private bus for West Bengal. Their screening is being done and information is being shared with the state authorities for the same. Only after the process is complete, will they be allowed to board the bus.”
Riyaz Hussain, one of the workers, said people had given up hope and were desperate to leave. There are around 5,000 embroidery workers in the area, of whom around 500 have left, according to many of their colleagues.
“Many buses have left without permission. We have applied for permission for 31 workers for West Bengal. Many of them gave up their last bit of money, which they had saved to send home. The total fare for one 50-seater private bus is Rs 1.2 lakh. We asked some NGOs to help, and others have asked their families to send money.”
A senior police official who asked not to be named, said, “Around four private buses have left with migrants from the area. They had passes issued by two other districts.”
However, east Delhi district magistrate Arun Mishra denied having issued any such pass. “The pass must be forged,” Mishra said.
Despite attempts, the Shahdara district magistrate did not respond to requests for comment.
In a similar case, the southeast district police on Monday night registered an FIR against a private tourist bus driver and its owner for ferrying 49 migrants to Bihar using a fake transit pass. “The bus driver and owner have been arrested. The bus was traced around 11.45 pm at Tughlaqabad Extension carrying 49 passengers, breaching the norms. He had shown a fake pass and the list of passengers was not shared with the homestate either. It was found that the migrants belong to the Tughlaqabad area and were sent back,” said a senior police official, who did not wish to be named.
Sunil Kumar Aledia, a social activist, who works for the homeless, said that a number of private buses have already left with migrants, who were forced to shell out whatever they had, as there was no other option left. “The government must arrange for more buses for a large number of people who are still stranded and ensure medical screening is done. It is taking too long for people to even register or get an assurance from the state authorities,” said Aledia