Hit by a sudden 21-day lockdown and no transport, hundreds of migrant labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are walking for days to reach their homes from the Delhi-NCR region and Gujarat, about 200 to 300 km away. And some elsewhere try to make the desperate journey crammed inside container trucks.
Maharashtra Police on Thursday found over 300 migrant workers holed up inside two container trucks meant for carrying essential commodities from Telangana to Rajasthan.
The shocked officials found that the workers, who hailed from Rajasthan, had chosen this clandestine and dangerous mode of travel as they were desperate to return home.
A team of police and revenue department officials stopped two container trucks coming from Telangana in the border district of Yavatmal in Maharashtra for inspection.
“The officials at Pandharkavda toll booth found something was fishy as the drivers could not give a satisfactory answer as to what the trucks were carrying and where it was headed,” said a senior official in Mumbai.
“Inside, they found some 300 daily wagers in two containers. Some of them said they wanted to go back to their home state Rajasthan and could not find any other mode of transport,” he added.
As the nationwide lockdown clamped in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus entered the second day on Thursday, heart-rending stories of migrant workers who fled from the National Capital Region(NCR) on foot in the absence of public transport have also surfaced.
Migrant labourers elsewhere in the country like in Kerala and Karnataka who are yearning to go home in the absence of any work to make a living say they have no choice but to stay back and be at the mercy of authorities.
With hundreds of hapless daily-wagers trudging along desolate inter-state highways on the way back to Rajasthan from adjoining states, mainly Gujarat, the Gehlot government is facilitating their return home from the border after screening for any coronavirus infection.
The lockdown has triggered large-scale movement of migrant labourers and workers hailing from Rajasthan living outside the state including Ahmedabad and other cities in Gujarat to where they had migrated for work, said Rajasthan government officials. The Rajasthan border is around 225 km from Ahmedabad.
The migrant workers have preferred to return to their home state as some of them said they cannot even find food in Ahmedabad with hotels closed. Most of them are daily wage workers who cannot afford to pay house rent too, when there is no work.
“We have decided to walk all the way to our villages because if we stay here we will die of hunger,” said one labourer.
“No hotels or shops are open. At few outlets which sell food, one roti costs Rs 50. We cannot afford it,” he said.
Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani has urged migrant workers not to leave the state and assured that all arrangements will be made to provide them food and accommodation.
According to eyewitness accounts, scores of migrant workers from Delhi and adjacent Noida and Ghaziabad started trickling into Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh having covered the journey of about 140 km on foot, hours after the lockdown announcement was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday night.
Left penniless with the sudden closure of their factories, the workers said they had no option but to trek home on foot.
Some of them were seen moving further to Etah and Kasgunj, about 50 km from Aligarh
If Vaqil in his 20s, who works in a factory in Dadri in Noida started for home in Kasganj on foot when told by his owner there would not be any work for him, Amal Kumar from Etah started from Noida when asked not to come to work.
Amal said his company owner asked him to stay in his accommodation with no mention of any monetary help and so he decided to leave for home.
Amal said whatever food he had prepared for the journey was soon consumed and now he would be looking for any help from anywhere before he could reach his destination.
Pradip Kumar, who worked as tailor in a company in Noida which has closed down, was asked to leave as soon as after the lockdown was announced.
“I had been walking for one-and-a half-days now to reach Kasganj where my brother is posted in the Police,” he said. Pradip said his owner refused to help by saying he cannot do anything.
An elderly native from Jhansi said he plans to reach home from Aligarh in a week’s time on foot. Jhansi is about 350 km from Aligarh.
“There is no work because of corona. We are about 30 people in all. We will make our own food on the way,” he said.
Some others who were stranded near Aligarh were asking locals to help them contact their families in neighbouring districts in Uttar Pradesh.
In Rajasthan, the districts of Jalore and Sirohi bordering Gujarat have been witnessing migrant labourers returning on foot to their home state after the lockdown announcement, said Jalore Superintendent of police Himmat Abhilash Tak.
The trend is not limited to Rajasthan’s two districts bordering Gujarat alone, but was also seen in the borders with other states including Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
Tak said Sirohi and other border districts in Rajasthan were sealed till Wednesday but opened on the direction of the state government from Wednesday evening.
Sirohi district too has been witnessing a large influx of people from Gujarat and other states for the past few days.
Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said he had arranged vehicles for around 700 migrant labourers who had left Ahmedabad for Rajasthan on foot.
“Deputy chief minister yesterday night on the highway came across a group of 700 migrant workers who were walking back to their native villages in Rajasthan from Ahmedabad,” said Patel’s Twitter handle.
“He called upon officials and minister of state for home Pradeepsinh Jadeja to the spot on the highway, made arrangements for their food and also arranged vehicles so that they can be transported up to Rajasthan border,” it added.