Nowhere to stay, no way to leave — workers strandedUpdated: Mar 25, 2020 00:02 IST
Hundreds of people who migrated from small towns to the National Capital Region (NCR) for work and those transiting to their homes after the closure of their workplaces in other cities were stranded on Tuesday amid suspension of public transport by the government to control the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
Thousands of migrant workers swarmed India’s rail network and bus terminals before the government announced on Sunday that it was suspending all passenger operations of the Indian Railways and interstate bus services to stop the dangerous transmission of the highly contagious disease.
Delhi is served by three interstate bus terminals – Kashmere Gate, Sarai Kale Khan and Anand Vihar – and thousands of buses depart from these terminals every day. There are four major railway stations in the Capital - New Delhi, Old Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin and Anand Vihar.
On Tuesday, many people could be seen on the streets in Noida and Ghaziabad, looking for a way to travel back to their hometowns. Some of them managed to hitch rides in trucks passing through the area, but only after paying heavy sums to the drivers of the commercial vehicles.
Rahul Saini, a daily wager who worked as an electrician in Ghaziabad until losing his job a week ago, waited on National Highway-9 to try to reach his home town in Hapur district. “There are dozens of people like me who have no money and need to go to their homes in Hapur, Moradabad and Bareilly. The buses and trains are cancelled and the only option is to board a commercial truck. But the drivers are demanding Rs 200 per person for a drop to Garhmukteshwar and Rs 500 for journey up to Moradabad. Rs 200 additional is sought for a drop to Bareilly. This is exorbitant and majority of people cannot afford,” Saini, who could leave the area despite trying for two hours, said.
“As a result, many have decided to walk down to their hometowns in Hapur, which is adjoining district,” he added.
Images showed long lines of people walking with bags and other belongings along major highways on Tuesday.
There were also people who had trouble finding their way back home to the Capital from other cities. Delhi-resident Akash Kumar arrived at Lal Kuan from Bulandshahr district after drivers of different trucks. From Lal Kuan, he decided to walk down to his house in Paharganj.
“There is no truck which is going to Delhi. From here, I will walk down and try to sneak into Delhi on foot in case the cops don’t allow me to enter. My money is finished and work has stalled,” Kumar said.
Ghaziabad district magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey and divisional commissioner (Meerut) Anita C Meshram did not comment on the matter despite repeated calls.
After the Haryana government imposed a complete lockdown in the state, with almost every manufacturing unit and construction site being closed down, there were similar reports in the state. Groups of people carrying backpacks and holding other items could be seen walking towards Sirhaul and Kapashera border as public transport remained suspended.
Some even walked from neighbouring Rajasthan but were stopped from entering Delhi by the police, who have sealed the border after chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a complete lockdown.
Mantu Tiwari, a 20-year-old who walked from Tapukra industrial area in Rajasthan could be seen squatting on the road after being stopped by the police. “I am from Satna in Madhya Pradesh and decided to go home as work has stopped. I started walking on Monday morning and reached Gurugram at 4pm but now I am stuck,” he said. The silver lining his experience was a stranger from Nathupur who helped him with food.
Several workers approaching Delhi said they had relatives living in the Capital and it would be easier for them to survive living together.
Police officials manning barricades at different places said they have asked workers to stay put. “Everyone is safe at their homes. The government will help them but walking on foot to reach Uttar Pradesh is not a viable option,” said inspector Rajender, station house officer, Palam Vihar.
The workers, however, complained that with supplies running short and money fast running out, they could not afford to stay put.
To help the workers, some officials arranged roadways buses to take those stranded to their hometowns. In Noida, 22 buses were arranged to evacuate the stranded passengers.
Anurag Yadav, assistant regional manager, Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation, said the buses operated from 10pm to 2am. “Buses are not plying on the roads due to lockdown. But we are on alert and ready to help evacuate people in emergency situations,” he said.