21-day lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak in India has left thousands of migrant labourers who work as daily wagers with no income, making their survival in a city a tall task. As a result, thousands of stranded migrants across India hit the roads on foot to reach their homes miles away.
“Groups of Adivasi workers walking back from Surat in #Gujarat to their homes hundreds of kilometres away” — video by Prayas, NGO working with construction workers. A few of the workers here say they are trying to reach Una, over 500 km away pic.twitter.com/Adv9lVBfnx— Anumeha (@anumayhem) March 25, 2020
Today at 4 pm, around 1500 people gathered at Bandra railway station premises. Many of them were migrant labourers. They were unhappy with the extension of the lockdown&wanted to go back to their homes. They had placed their demand before admn: Mumbai police PRO DCP Pranaya Ashok pic.twitter.com/IxggR8OwjW— ANI (@ANI) April 14, 2020
The speed of the transportation shutdown meant that India’s tens of millions of internal migrants had no time to get home. Indian cities rely on a vast workforce drawn from the rest of the country, labourers who move in search of opportunity and often leave their families behind for months or years. They work construction, drive taxis, staff restaurants and much more, living frugally and returning home each year.
— Álex Maroño Porto (@alexmaronho) April 3, 2020
Lockdown forced Migrants to walk down home
Near one of Delhi’s long-distance bus stations, migrants converged in the vain hope that some transport might be available. By midmorning, they numbered in the hundreds. Stick-wielding police officers began herding them down the road.
Now any channel @aajtak @ANI @ABPNews @indiatvnews has the courage to ask the @PMOIndia that despite the #LockDown, how did such a large number of people reach Anand Vihar Delhi bus terminal !— Atikur Rahman Siddiqui (عتيق الرحمن) (@atikur1989) March 28, 2020
Because the Delhi Police is inside the @HMOIndia !#MigrantsOnTheRoad pic.twitter.com/QMAw05igrZ
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.
What happens when Central Govt does not have any plan for “ Migrant Labourers” in #Lockdown 1 & #Lockdown2 ?— Jebi Mather (@JebiMather) April 14, 2020
Answer: Instances like Anand Vihar Bus Terminal ; Surat ; Changanassery in Kerala; Several other places & now Bandra Station .
“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, 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.
Migrants workers stranded
Sundaraman from the People’s Health Movement highlighted how the stress of lockdown appeared to be overtaking the stress of the disease. Sundaraman said his biggest concern was the thousands of migrants who found themselves stranded across India as Modi announced the lockdown with just four hours’ notice.
“What is really worrying is the huge migration that has started across the country. You just can’t stop public transport like that. The lockdown should have been done in a phased way. People shouldn’t be stranded without income, without work. Even in an authoritarian state, they would know that this is something the state has to do,” said Sundaraman.
For such migrant workers, who are often employed in low-paid, precarious jobs, the measures are a double blow. The result has been a walking exodus of thousands of people.
Quick action taken by India
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was quick to recommend residents avoid or postpone mass gatherings until the virus is contained. The Ministry of External Affairs postponed the Indian cricket league and state authorities are shutting schools, gyms and swimming pools in the worst-hit regions.
Such responses are “good and impressive,” according to the WHO.
Delhi Police has booked 44 Delhi Transport Corporation bus drivers for carrying migrant labourers on 29th March. The FIR states “the bus drivers, conductors and head of DIIMTS (Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System) CK Goyal&other Govt servants have committed an offence.”
— ANI (@ANI) April 1, 2020
Home Minister Amit Shah Saturday said “the government was committed to supporting all migrant workers who had lost their jobs due to the lockdown and were being forced to walk long distances to reach their homes”.
Shah said, “the home secretary has asked states to immediately set up relief camps for migrant workers returning to their domicile states or trying to do so during this lockdown period. All these facilities being made available and relief package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana.”
In Uttar Pradesh, the transport department has made a target of sending roughly 3,000 buses to Delhi to bring migrant workers. Back, these buses will be sent from districts adjoining Delhi like Agra, Meerut, Moradabad, Aligarh, Bareilly and Kanpur. The buses are being sanitized and drivers and conductors are being provided with masks and sanitizers,” said the official.