Chaos, confusion and a stampede-like situation prevailed at the Delhi-Ghaziabad border as hundreds of migrant workers fought amongst themselves to get seats on the limited number of buses the Uttar Pradesh administration operated on Saturday to ferry them to the hinterlands.
Hundreds of migrant workers from Delhi, Haryana and even Punjab reached Anand Vihar, Ghazipur and Ghaziabad’s Lal Kuan area after taking arduous treks of many kilometers on foot to take buses to their respective native places.
But the people, in hordes, far outnumbered the seats on the buses, resulting in many of them travelling on rooftops after every inch inside was crammed with passengers and their luggage. Social distancing norms seemed to have been discarded as they squeezed into the buses. Some wore face masks but most had handkerchiefs tied over their nose and mouths to protect them from the infection.
The imposition of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown has left migrant workers with no means to earn a living, forcing them to undertake long journeys on foot to their far-flung homes in the absence of any means of transport. Delhi as well as industrial towns in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Punjab employ thousands of workers from states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
Santosh Singh, 23, who hails from Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh, said he walked 110 km from Charki Dadri where he works for a plastic unit. Even after reaching the border, he could not get a seat on the bus and decided to walk another 20 km to Lal Kuan in the hope of getting on another bus. At the border, hundreds roamed around to get buses to places such as Lucknow, Hardoi, Barelli, Kanpur, Allahabad, Aligarh and Moradabad. But with no arrangements for orderly boarding or announcements, they scrambled to get in whenever a bus arrived.
A handful of policemen stood on the sides with batons but did not intervene to regulate the massive crowds.
“We have no count of how many of them would have crossed (into Uttar Pradesh) since Wednesday but they keep coming all through the day,” a police officer on patrol duty at the border said. “The exodus peaked yesterday (Friday) but we were able to regulate their entry.”
Some of the workers PTI spoke to said they feared the lockdown would leave them with no food and shelter and decided to walk home knowing well that all public transport had been halted.
The influx of workers prompted the Uttar Pradesh government to ply some 200 buses to take them to their homes. But these buses clearly were too few too late.
The government had on Thursday announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore free foodgrain and cash dole for the poor but many of the country’s estimated 12 crore migrants simply cannot wait for the benefits to start rolling. Some workers hoped to hitch a ride on the trucks carrying basic essentials that are still allowed on the roads.
The Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) is plying 200 special buses to provide transport facilities to people stuck at various places in the border areas with Delhi. “On the directions of the Government of Uttar Pradesh, the UPSRTC is deploying buses to provide transport facilities to people stuck at various points at border districts of Delhi. The buses have started reaching Noida and Ghaziabad.
Around 200 buses will depart every 2 hours from 8 am onwards,” read a letter written by the Managing Director (MD) UPSRTC, Raj Shekhar, to the administration. The letter stated that the task of ferrying passengers to their destinations in UP will continue till March 29.