UP migrant workers head home driven by local polls, Covid fears
A few passengers admitted that the sudden travel was prompted by rumours of yet another lockdown.
While the lockdown last year drove scores of migrants and their families to bus and railway stations in the Capital in search of a way home last year, many passengers and transport officials attributed the current rush at Kaushambi ISBT for buses headed towards different district in Uttar Pradesh to the panchayat elections starting in the state on Thursday. A few passengers, however, said that their return was spurred by fears of another lockdown.
For the past five days, the district has been reporting more than a 100 new cases daily, with 159 cases on April 10, 155 on April 11, 187 on April 12, 199 on April 13 and 277 on April 14.
An HT team, which visited the ISBT on Wednesday, saw men, women and children coming to with bags, boxes and other utility items, through the foot overbridge connecting it with Anand Vihar on the other side of the Outer Ring Road in Delhi. While some said they were travelling due to “some work at home”, many said they were going “to cast votes in the panchayat elections”.
E-rickshaw driver Mukesh Kumar, who usually works outside ISBT Kaushambi, said that most of the migrants were returning to vote in elections. “Many of my passengers claim to have been told that they will not be allowed to enter their villages if they do not cast votes. That’s why many of them are leaving. A few are, however, going due to rumours of another lockdown,” he said.
The first of the four phase of panchayat elections in UP, which will see voting in 18 districts, is scheduled on April 15. The results of all phases will be announced on May 2.
The districts going to polls on Thursday are Ghaziabad, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur, Jhansi, Allahabad, Raebareli, Jaunpur and Rampur, among others.
However, some of the passengers said that the panchayat elections were a convenient way to get back home ahead of another possible lockdown.
“Labourers or daily wage earners will not rush so easily and spend their hard-earned money to go to their home towns to cast votes. Their travel and tickets have been arranged. This way, we will cast votes, and will also get a chance to stay back home. There is fear among many people about the rise in Covid cases and many are going back because of that,” said Jai Chand, from Rae Bareli district, who lives in a rented room in Palam.
“The government buses charge about ₹600 to Raebareli, but private operators are making a killing by demanding up to ₹1,400 for a seat now,” said Rajesh Bisht, also from Rae Bareli.
UP State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) officials said that the occupancy in their 52 seater buses was nearly 100%, especially for those headed to districts such as Gorakhpur, Bahraich, Lucknow, Sitapur, Gonda and Rae Bareli, among others.
“There is huge rush of passengers for the past four days... During normal days, bus occupancy is about 65% which has now gone up to 100% for the past four days,” said Narendra Kumar, assistant regional manager of UPSRTC and in-charge of Kaushambi ISBT.
“As per our interaction with passengers, most of them are headed home for elections or due to the start of the harvesting season of rabi crop. Rise in Covid cases and fear of any lockdown may have also impacted their travel to their hometowns,” said AK Singh, regional manager of UPSRTC.
Meanwhile, a few passengers admitted that the sudden travel was prompted by rumours of yet another lockdown.
Mohammad Arif (41), a driver from UP’s Bijnor, had already sent his wife and two daughters back home on Tuesday. “There are rumours that the lockdown will come into effect... Instead of getting stuck here, at least my family and I will have something to eat if we reach our home town,” said Arif, who boarded a bus on Wednesday.