With the Covid-19 situation turning worse day by day, the country is staring at another migrant crisis. Migrant labourers working in different parts of the country are heading home as states have started imposing restrictions as part of the measures to contain the Covid spread.
Thousands of migrant workers gathered at Anand Vihar ISBT in New Delhi to catch a bus home, hours after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a week-long lockdown and appealed to them with folded hands not to leave Delhi while sounding a word of assurance -- "Main hoon na" (I am here for you).
Police officers said over 5,000 people gathered at Anand Vihar including at ISBT as well as the railway station and the numbers were rising.
Earlier in the day, Kejriwal appealed to the migrant workers to not leave Delhi, saying the short period of lockdown would need not be extended.
"I assure you, the government will take full care of you. Main hun na, mujh par bharosa rakho (I am here for you, have faith in me)," Kejriwal said, announcing the lockdown from 10 PM tonight to 5 AM next Monday.
A senior police officer said after the sudden announcement of the lockdown, thousands of migrant workers thronged the ISBT Anand Vihar area.
"We have deployed maximum force here. There must be over 5,000 people here at present. Buses are limited as of now, we are guiding people as per their destination," he said.
The police were also in talks with civil administration officials to either arrange transport for them or shelter homes for their temporary stay, the officer said.
Policemen deployed in the area were also trying to counsel the migrant workers to stay back as the lockdown was for a few days only, he added.
However, migrants feared that the lockdown could be extended as the situation of COVID-19 was deteriorating day by day.
Mukesh Pratap, who works at a cloth factory in Dilsad Garden and a native of UP's Bareilly, said he wanted to go to his home as there was a possibility of lockdown extension.
"Lockdown will definitely affect our livelihood so it is better for us to remain at our home. It may be extended also and I would not like to take a chance," he said.
In an online briefing, the chief minister said, "I would like to appeal to them(migrants), with folded hands, this is a short lockdown of six days. Please do not leave Delhi. You would lose a lot of time, money, and energy in travelling. Stay in Delhi."
Kejriwal said it was not an easy decision to impose lockdown because it hurt the poor people most.
"I understand how people lose their jobs and wages during the lockdown. This is especially difficult for the poor people and daily wage workers," he said.
During the nationwide lockdown last year, a large number of migrant workers from Bihar, UP and other states living in Delhi had moved to their home states, through whatever means available and often on foot.
Southern Railway to run special trains
Southern Railway will run special trains or add additional coaches to existing trains to clear the rush of migrant workers wanting to go home, said a senior official.
"We will be running two special trains from Villupuram to Purulia and Gorakpur soon. Similarly, we will attach additional coaches based on the rush," B Guganesan, Chief Public Relations Officer told IANS.
He said two additional coaches were attached recently to Alleppey-Dhanbad Express that runs via Chennai at the Puratchi Thalaivar Dr. MGR Central Railway Station or popularly known as the central station.
Guganesan said the migrant workers going back home this time around cannot be compared to what happened last year.
Now trains are running to different destinations and those who have confirmed tickets can board the trains, he added.
Large number of migrant workers have gathered at the central station and many of them want to go back home.
"Not all of them may want to go back. Migrant workers assembling at the central station in the morning are normal. They assemble there and then leave for the places of work," Guganesan remarked.
According to him, the Southern Railways will not be changing the departure or arrival trains, including that of intra-state trains or inter-city trains owing to the night curfew imposed in Tamil Nadu between 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
"We have not received any request from the state government regarding this. Further long distance trains traverse through different states and hence time change is not possible," he added.
There is an apprehension in the minds of travelling public about the availability of public transport from the railway stations to reach their homes as there are several trains that reach Chennai Central or the Egmore Station here after 9 p.m.
On the aspect of converting passenger coaches into Covid-19 wards due to an increase in coronavirus infections, Guganesan said last year 573 coaches were converted into Covid-19 wards.
Subsequently, 274 Covid-19 coaches were reconverted into normal passenger coaches and have been attached to various trains.
Now there are 299 coaches converted into Covid-19 wards and based on the request from the state governments they will be moved to the required places, Guganesan said.
The migrant workers in different parts of Tamil Nadu are making a beeline to the major railway stations trying to head back towards their home towns fearing a repeat of the 2020 lockdown. With fresh cases touching 50,000 numbers in the last ten days, the migrant workers are worried a lot.
Tamil Nadu has more than 20 lakh migrant workers spread across various industries in the state including the garment capital, Tiruppur and the industrial capital, Coimbatore.
Bejoy Sahoo, a migrant worker from Kalahandi in Odisha while speaking to IANS said, "We are working as labourers in Tiruppur garment unit and we fear an imminent lockdown. I want to somehow get back to my home as we are fearing that there won't be food or accommodation to us once the lockdown is implemented."
While the Tiruppur district administration conducted several awareness programmes among the migrant workers in association with the Tirupur garment manufacturers and other trade bodies, the migrant workers are not much convinced.