Coronavirus lockdown: Sea of migrants, wave of tragedies | India News


The borders of states in northern, northwestern and western India were overwhelmed on Saturday by the unstoppable force of lakhs of migrants on the move, each fragile life escaping joblessness caused by the nationwide lockdown and the slow starvation that many of them believed would follow. They were heading home on journeys of hundreds of kilometres, to states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal — despite assurances that they would be fed and looked after during the nationwide lockdown to stop the novel coronavirus from infecting more of India.
On state borders in southern India, at least 5,000 were stranded at crossing points between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The worst hit were the AP-Karnataka, AP-Telangana and AP-Tamil Nadu and Telangana-Maharashtra borders.
Many states found they had no option but to help these forlorn, desperate streams of men, women and children on their journeys home and provided food and onward transport.
Lakhs of labourers massed on Rajasthan’s borders with Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh on Saturday were waiting for buses to carry them to their homes in those states, while tens of thousands of people on Delhi’s border with UP and similar numbers in Noida were trying to leave for destinations deeper in UP, and beyond.
About 2 lakh migrant workers on their way to Bihar from the Delhi National Capital Region in autos, mini-trucks and buses were believed to have crossed UP’s Shahjahanpur district in the past 24 hours. They were on the Ghaziabad-Rampur-Bareilly-Lucknow-Gorakhpur-Muzaffarpur route, reports from Bareilly said. “At least the wheat crop is ready for harvest back home,” one of them said.“It is better to die at home than be left stranded in Delhi alone,” said another. Many had paid Rs 2,500 for rides home in auto-rickshaws.
Police inspector Deepak Shukla, deployed on the Hardoi-Shahjahanpur Highway 24, said hundreds of auto-rickshaws bearing Delhi registration numbers had passed by in the past 24 hours. He said he stopped a few but all of them said they owned the autos and had no other means of getting back home. There was some relief as the UP government arranged for more than 3,000 buses to ferry migrants to their destination. Around 300 buses operated from Agra region to different parts of the state on Saturday.
West Bengal, one of the states to which the migrants were streaming, saw no major crowding on its borders, but that appeared likely because those returning were still on their way or stuck at other state borders. Out-migration from Bengal is mainly to states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Delhi, Kerala, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, where thousands of people are stranded. Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has written to her counterparts in 18 states urging them to provide basic food, shelter and medicines to the stranded. People from Jharkhand stranded at Howrah Station were sent out on buses but stopped at the border with Jharkhand. Meanwhile, sources in the home ministry said over 2,300 Bangladeshi nationals had left India and 400 Indians had returned from there in the past three days.
Kerala was the other state that stood out in contrast. There was a rush to go back — to Bengal, Odisha, Bihar, etc. — but that was much before the lockdown began. Then, just before the nationwide shutdown, a workers’ cooperative had sent 156 workers all the way back to Malda, Bengal, on buses. Subsequently, the southern state took a lot of proactive measures aimed at stranded guest workers, as they are officially called, like opening relief camps and community kitchens.
Telangana had about 8,000 people from Maharashtra’s Chnadrapur district stranded in three districts — Mehboobnagar, Khammam and Bhadrachalam — on Saturday. Hundreds of families in Chandrapur district migrate to these districts. Most are labourers and they return home in March. Maharashtra relief and rehabilitation minister Vijay Wadetiwar said it was not possible at this moment to bring them back since Chandrapur has no Covid-19 cases. “Our CM has spoken to his Telangana counterpart and necessary arrangements have been made,”’ he said. Similarly, migrants from Mumbai, Thane and Palghar districts have been walking to their native towns in Gujarat and Rajasthan. With the states sealing borders, migrants who had walked up to the Bhilad border (Maharashtra-Gujarat) had to walk back. Talasari police inspector Ajay Vasave said that till Friday over 3,000 migrants had gathered at the border. While they were urged to return, various NGOs helped out with with food, water and tea. The government has also promised them food and shelter till the crisis is over.
Thousands of migrant workers from different parts of the country are stranded in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Police have sealed these borders. Even agricultural labour from within AP and Telangana are stranded as inter-district borders are also closed. The AP government has made it clear that it will allow people into the state only if they agree to stay in designated quarantine centres for 14 days.
Over two crore Bihari migrants are feared stuck in at least eight states due to the nationwide lockdown. Bihar resident commissioner in Delhi Vipin Kumar’s office has been trying to make arrangements for food and rations for those stuck at their places of work or have already started to move out in droves. “Helpline numbers have been released for trapped Bihari migrants,” an official said. The favoured destinations of Bihari migrants are Delhi, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Rajasthan has empowered district collectors to arrange buses for these workers. State transport minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas said state roadways buses would be used to drop off all migrant labourers entering Rajasthan from other states. Labourers from other states would be transported to the state’s borders. The 18,000 labourers who entered Dungarpur from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh are staying on roads, tankers and wherever else they can find space.
Chhattisgarh has sealed its borders and those found there are being shifted to identified shelters. Chief minister Bhupesh Baghel has instructed all district collectors and SPs to ensure these migrants are provided shelter and food till things get better.
Himachal Pradesh, too, sealed its borders.
In Odisha, 60 drivers were caught by the Jharsuguda police while trying to return to their villages in Bihar and Jharkhand in a truck. The state’s labour department has already coordinated with 9,000 workers from other states stranded in Odisha. They are from Bihar, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Food, shelter, and in some cases healthcare, have been provided.
Jhansi, in UP, which touches Madhya Pradesh at eight different locations, has around 2,500 migrants on the Gwalior and Mauranipur roads. At least 6,000 people have already crossed into MP on foot since Friday. Over three dozen buses have been arranged to ferry them to MP.
While migrant labourers on their way to Bihar from Delhi were yet to reach Varanasi and Chandauli (they are expected to reach Kashi by Sunday), masses of local labourers from eastern UP districts heading home towards Farrukhabad and Agra have hit the roads. Over 400 people had gathered at bus stations in Varanasi and another 500 labourers from Bihar and their families could be seen walking in groups of 10 and 20 in Chandauli. The administration in Varanasi was making arrangements to disperse the crowds at bus stations.
Gujarat said the outflow of migrant labourers from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh had reduced and that they were being provided food and temporary shelter at the inter-state borders. Three north Gujarat districts — Sabarkantha, Banaskantha and Aravalli — have a total of 26 points from which to enter Rajasthan. Banaskantha collector Sandeep Sagale said, “There is no crowding now at the border, but nearly 1,500 who were on the way to Rajasthan on Friday night were given food and temporary shelters at schools and hotels.” Dahod, which shares a border with Rajasthan and MP, saw thousands of labourers going back home on foot.
Goa — where thousands of migrants employed in the hospitality and industrial sectors are locked in — stopped around 300 labourers from crossing the border to Karnataka, CM Pramod Sawant said, adding that his government had assured them food and shelter. He said Goa has migrant shelter homes in each taluka. At present, no migrant is stranded at the Goa border with Maharashtra or with Karnataka.
The 1,400 fishermen returning home to Andhra Pradesh from Karnataka’s Mangaluru and Udupi districts, have been housed at the Adarsha School on the Bengaluru-Chennai national highway, Mulbagal tehsildar KN Rajashekar said.



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