Residents arrange transport for nearly 800 migrants stranded at Tau Devi Lal StadiumUpdated: Jun 02, 2020 23:13 IST
Ibrahim, an ageing contract labourer, said he came to find work in Gurugram from Bihar’s Araria district not too long before the lockdown. While heating tar for construction and road work, he began to lose his eyesight. “Now I am blind. One of the contractors who employed me took me to a doctor, but I have no money for the treatment. I have been out of work because I can’t see. I came here because I had no other option of going home,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim is one of nearly 800 migrant workers from Bihar who began their journey back home on Tuesday, after being stranded at Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Sector 38 for over 36 hours since Monday morning.
Ibrahim added that, out of hesitation of having to ask for a stranger’s help to find a bathroom, he has been avoiding eating and drinking. “All day yesterday I just sat here waiting to board a train. I am scared,” he said, crying.
As news of the stranded migrants’ plight began circulating on social media, civil society groups and citizens came together to arrange at least 20 private buses which left for Bihar on Tuesday.
According to official rolls, at least 774 migrants spent the night at Tau Devi Lal Stadium under two large, makeshift tents after they were denied seats on a Shramik Special train bound for the east Indian states of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha, which left at around 6pm on Monday. “There were several migrants outside the gate who had to be brought in as we were trying to prevent a law and order situation,” Hitender Singh, sub-divisional magistrate, Badshahpur, and nodal officer for train movement within the district, said.
From late Monday until Tuesday afternoon, the stadium was in chaos with several volunteers from the Civil Defence, and civil society groups such as the Gurugram Nagrik Ekta Manch, assisting stranded migrants with food and water and scrambling to answer their questions about their return home. Social distancing was scarcely followed, with many migrants clamouring around volunteers, who were creating an inventory of those left behind (for use during medical screenings later). The migrant workers could finally leave for their homes when seven buses, organised by a private citizen, arrived at Tau Devi Lal Stadium on Tuesday morning. By afternoon, 10 more buses had arrived and the medical screening of the passengers had begun. A Hindustan Times team saw at least three buses leaving the stadium bound for Bihar.
Manas Fuloria, CEO, Nagarro, said, “We have contributed a small amount for hiring private buses to ferry back the migrants, as have other residents and corporates in Gurugram. Majority of the effort has been put in by Puneeta, though.”
Puneeta Chadha Khanna, a city resident who was instrumental in organising relief efforts, was unable to take calls on Tuesday and did not respond to messages.
Singh said, “The Shramik Special train which left on Monday was intended only for those travelling to West Bengal and Odisha. However, as the train would be passing through Bihar and Jharkhand, several migrants from these states came to Gurugram in hopes of catching the train. We did not publish any communication saying that Bihar residents should come to Tau Devi Lal Stadium.”
However, migrants received an SMS about the travel arrangement around 10.30pm on Sunday. “This message is from the Gurugram district administration. Based on your registration on the E-Disha website, arrangements have been made for your travel from GURUGRAM to BIHAR via train. Kindly take efforts to reach Tau Devi Lal Stadium, Rajeev Chowk, Gurugram, at the 10am on 1.6.20,” read the SMS, which multiple migrants and NGO workers showed HT on Tuesday.
“We packed up our belongings, settled accounts with our landlords, and came to the stadium. After coming here, we were told that there is no place on the train for us,” Chandresh, a migrant from Bihar’s Kishanganj district who was travelling with his wife and infant daughter, said.
Ram Kumar Tiwari, from Bihar’s Gopalganj district, who spent the night at Tau Devi Lal Stadium, said, “We found out late on Monday that there is no arrangement for us. I called up my landlord to ask if he could let me stay one more night, as we were promised buses the next day, but he refused. So we had no choice but to sleep over here.”
While Chandresh and Kumar, who were residing in Gurugram, were able to make their way back home on Tuesday, several other migrants from other districts were not so lucky. A senior official in Haryana Roadways’ Gurugram division, seeking anonymity, also confirmed that at least 10 state buses were sent to at least four districts—Rewari, Sirsa, Karnal and Narnaul—to ferry migrants from Bihar to Gurugram on Monday. “Close to 500 migrants were brought to Tau Devi Lal Stadium, but the buses were sent back as there was some confusion at the site,” said the Roadways official. Yet another five buses, organised by the NGO Safe in India to bring 150 Bihar migrants from Manesar to Gurugram, were also turned back from the stadium.
The migrants who were sent to their original destinations are currently being put up in government shelters. “In Rewari, about 400 migrants from Bihar have been kept in a school which is being used as a makeshift shelter. There are close to 30 people in a room,” an NGO worker who has been on-site at Tau Devi Lal Stadium since Monday evening said.
“When we realised that migrants have collected in large numbers, we requested the railways to increase the capacity of the train to accommodate more passengers, but coaches were not available. Finally, we could repatriate about 1,600 migrants from West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkhand,” Singh said. “For Bihar migrants who have been sent back to Rewari and other districts, we will be making arrangements either by train or bus by the end of the week,” he added.
Chinar Chahal, SDM, Sohna, and nodal officer for bus movement in the district, said, “We took all care to keep the migrants fed. We distributed hand sanitiser, food, water and ORS packets and even slippers for those who were barefoot. I am not the right person to comment on why the situation arose, but buses were arranged the next day for Bihar migrants.”
Gurugram deputy commissioner could not be contacted for comments.