Stranded migrants in Delhi wait in desperation as admin readies transportation plans
As the Delhi government undertakes a survey of migrant workers stranded in the city before sending them back to their respective states, officials on Saturday said those housed in schools and shelter homes are likely to be sent back first.
“The numbers are being collated. There are many who have been left behind while their families are in need back home. Unlike other states, the number of migrant workers living in Delhi is high. We will have to prioritise people in batches. Besides, even the special trains, deployed to ferry workers back home, can take only around 1,000-1,200 people at a time, keeping in mind social distancing factors,” said a senior official of the Delhi government, requesting anonymity.
The official added that while trains are a better mode of transport with respect to social distancing protocol in mind, private buses will have to be hired for workers who want to travel to shorter distances. “We are coordinating with the ministry of railways as well. This is a mammoth exercise, given the large numbers, and will take a while. Going by inputs received so far, an estimated 20,000 migrants in the city are from Bihar. Numbers of those from other states are being accumulated,” he said.
Tens and thousands of migrant workers who could not return to their home states because of the national lockdown, imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, are awaiting government guidelines on transportation. The Delhi government had issued an order Friday directing the police and the district administrations to seal all interstate borders and ensure that there is no “unlawful assembly” or “disorderly movement” of people during the lockdown, which was on Friday extended till May 17 by the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA).
The order, issued by Delhi chief secretary Vijay Dev, is aimed at preventing unorganised movement of stranded people in the city. The government said it is in the process of drafting protocols and mechanisms to ensure transportation of stranded persons to other states in a planned manner.
Initially after the lockdown was enforced, the city saw migrant workers setting out on foot towards the city borders in droves, and later towards the inter-state bus terminals in hope of catching a ride back home, to get back to their home states.
Scores of migrant workers were stopped by the police and taken to shelter homes in the Capital, for which the state government had used 256 school buildings, where they are being provided food and basic necessities.
Mahesh Kumar, 36, housed in a central Delhi shelter, said he is desperate to go back home as his mother is alone at home in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district. Besides, he said the meals he gets at the shelter are not enough for his family of four. “I don’t know what I will do or eat once I get back, but I need to see my mother. I have also run out of balance in my mobile phone and have not been able to speak to her. A few days back, a neighbour from my village had helped me speak with her. My mother asked me to come back soon as she has no money left and is dependent on our neighbours to help her get food,” said Kumar, who used to work at a scrap dealer’s shop in Delhi.
Officers of the Delhi Police, who did not wish to be named, said that migrant workers are mostly lodged in shelter homes in central, northern and south-eastern parts of Delhi. However, neither the police not the state government wanted to go on record with the exact number of migrant workers lodged in shelters in Delhi.
A senior police official in Rohini district, who did not wish to be named, said that though a total of 928 persons have been housed in shelter homes in the Rohini district, only 74 of them are migrants. Besides those in shelter homes, the police official quoted above said areas of Prem Nagar and Aman Vihar house a large number of migrants but they live in rented accommodations or shanties of their own. The official added that along with migrant workers, the shelter homes in Rohini also have vagabonds and homeless persons.
A Delhi police officer, on condition of anonymity, said that police teams are gathering information about migrant labourers, pilgrims and all those who are stranded in Delhi from all areas including the border areas. At the ground level, this officer said, beat and police station staff are patrolling their respective jurisdictions, day and night, enquiry about migrants who may be stranded in their respective areas.
MS Randhawa, spokesperson for the Delhi Police, said: “Senior officers are being apprised of the situation regularly and constant monitoring is underway, as the lockdown has been extended. Other welfare measures of feeding those who need food and helping people with other means, within Delhi, are also going on simultaneously. We are working in close coordination with the state administration and civic agencies.”
On Friday, the police department said they received many calls from migrant labourers seeking clarification on a form being circulated on messaging apps which could purportedly facilitate their return home. The police have refuted the existence of any such form, saying it is “unconfirmed news”.
Deputy commissioner of police (Shahdara) Dinesh Kumar Gupta said they had got a call about some people distributing such forms. “Appeals were made to people through messages and videos on WhatsApp that the government has not issued any such form and that people must not believe such unconfirmed news. Local resident welfare associations were also sent such messages to further communication,” Gupta said.