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Home / India News / Covid-19 lockdown: An arduous journey back home for migrant workers

Covid-19 lockdown: An arduous journey back home for migrant workers

Chhattisgarh saw migrants headed for different parts of the country as they accumulated on the Raipur-Bilaspur highway in order to get home.

india Updated: May 17, 2020 05:32 IST
Ritesh Mishra
Ritesh Mishra
Hindustan Times, Raipur
The migrants had arranged the truck for 1.5 lakh rupees. After a while the driver asked everyone on board to pay Rs 500 more.
The migrants had arranged the truck for 1.5 lakh rupees. After a while the driver asked everyone on board to pay Rs 500 more. (HT Photos)

It’s a few minutes to midnight on Friday. Around 35 km from Raipur city, a truck ferrying about 70 migrants including women and children is standing on the Raipur-Bilaspur highway.

A bitter altercation is going on between the migrants -- most have alighted from the truck -- and the driver.

“Lootat hass tola”, (You are looting us) ,” cries Lalit Banjare a resident of Bemetra district of the state, speaking in Chhattisghari.

“We booked this truck from Pune for Rs 1.5 lakh to ferry us to Navagarh tehsil of Bemetra..Now the driver is asking Rs 500 more from each of us”.

Banjare doesn’t want to pay up but everyone else is keen to be on their way. . “Thoda door aur hai...jhagda na karo...(It’s only a short distance (home); don’t fight)” a woman intervenes. The truck left Pune on Wednsday.

The money is finally arranged but Banjare is almost in tears. The driver looks embarrassed. “The owner demanded ...I am just a driver.”

Chattisgarh lies in the heart of India, a link between the south and the north and the east and the west. It shares borders with Andhra and Telangana to the south; Maharahtra and Madhya Pradesh to the West; Odisha to the east; and Uttar Pradesh and Jharkand to the north.

Thousands of migrants from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu cross Chhattisgarh each day to reach Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. They move mostly at night.

A little after the altercation on the highway; Tatiband Square, the entry into the city from Maharashtra and other states is packed with migrants.

Two roads lead away from the square -- one to Odisha and the other towards Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

The Chhattisgarh government has arranged food, water and buses for the migrants.

“The buses are arranged by district administration, regional transport office (RTO) and NGOs. About 4,000 migrants are ferried to Jharkhand, Odisha and within the state every day,” said Sandeep Kumar, a social activist who arranges buses for migrants at Telibandha square.

But some migrants, especially those travelling to locations in Chattisgarh are in a hurry and do not want to wait for buses; others, who have longer distances to travel, wait.

Most of those who do not wait “travel by hitching rides on trucks,” said Kumar.

Four constables of Chhattisgarh police have worked out a good system. They stop every truck which heads towards UP, MP, Bihar and Jharkand , and get some migrants on board.

It’s an informal system -- but it works.

“I am here for the last three days... We stop trucks, ask their destination , and urge them to ferry migrants to their destination... The Chhattisgarh government has also arranged buses for them but still most of them travel on their own,” said Chandrahas Verma, one of the four constables.

Well after midnight , on the Raipur -Odisha highway, about 60 km from Raipur, a group of 40 migrants are sleeping in a truck lay-by. About 14 auto-rickshaws, owned by these migrants, are parked in the lay-by.

The migrants are travelling from Mumbai to Jharkhand in the auto rickshaws.

“We started our journey on Tuesday from Mumbai with these auto-rickshaws. My village is about 1850 km from Mumbai... We travel whole day and camp anywhere in the night. Now around 500 km is left,” says Jahangir Ali.

“This is the time of Ramzan but most of us cannot fast because we are travelling and it is very difficult to sustain due to immense heat,” Ali adds.

The group says most of them won’t return to Mumbai.

“It is better to do farming than to get stuck in some big city. We have decided to live in our native village for next couple of years because we cannot survive in big cities,” says Anas, who gives only one name

Furter ahead on Raipur-Odisha road, a dozen migrants are camped near a Dhaba, r waiting for a ride.

“We took a lift from a truck from Tatiband Chauk in the evening with the help of policemen. The driver forcibly dropped us here. We have no option now but to wait till morningt,” says Diwakar Ravi, on is way to Jharkand.

The Chhattishgarh government says 67,441 of its migrant workers from different parts of the country have reached the state till Friday. These labourers came on trains and buses provided by the state government. According to labour commissioner Sonmani Bora, around 240000 migrants from Chattisgarh have registered with the state government, seeking a ride back to the state.

The state has no record of the number of migrants entering it on their way to other states.

At Tatiband Chauk , a young migrant worker, travelling from Nagpur to Varanasi is sitting on his suitcase . It’s time to call home.

“Raipur mein hun ..kal shaam tak pahuch jaaunga …khana mil gaya hai yahan (I am in Raipur; I will be home tomorrow evening; I’ve got food here),” Saraj Kumar tells his mother.

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