Crowds reappear at transport hubs, but not out of lockdown fear

The number of COVID-19 cases in the Capital is rising steeply again, but this time the migrant labourers are not caught in a panic even after strict measures were reintroduced in Delhi to control the spread of the virus.

Though the situation has an eerie resemblance to last year, they say their predicament is not comparable to the lockdown days.

Travelling to Bihar’s Begusarai district from Anand Vihar railway station, Ram Baran, a car mechanic in Faridabad, said: “We cannot get scared of the virus and live constantly in fear. Last year, I was jobless for over four months. We have already faced the worst and we are not thinking about that scenario anymore. I am going to my village to bring my daughter back. As for any lockdown in the future, we will see what happens.”

Nineteen-year-old Miyaz, who was waiting at the Anand Vihar railway station, said he was on his way from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, to Bhagalpur in Bihar. “I am going to my village as my parents want to see me. Even though there are restrictions in Ahmedabad, our factory is still operational and we cannot afford to miss out again. Last year, we were forced to return to our villages when the lockdown was announced suddenly. We cannot afford to miss work and wages again,” said Mr. Miyaz.

Planned visits

Several workers said they were going on scheduled trips to their villages and would return to the city after a few weeks.

Raju, 32, who works at a shop in Nehru Place, said: “There is some work in the village, so I am travelling to Bhagalpur. Last year, we faced hurdles during the lockdown and we were not among the ones who could travel back. Hopefully, the situation will not repeat and we will not be left without work yet again.”

‘No unusual rush’

Station Superintendent of Gurugram railway station, S.L. Meena, told The Hindu that there was no unusual rush of passengers to suggest an exodus of migrants fearing a lockdown.

“We have more than the usual rush today [Monday] because of a large number of devotees reaching Gurugram from the neighbouring States for Sheetla Mata fair. But the number of devotees too is far less compared to pre-pandemic days,” said Mr. Meena.

He added that the number of trains passing through the station was reduced to 46 from the 98 that plied in the pre-lockdown period, including six local trains.

In the pre-lockdown period, around a dozen local trains ran on the route.

“The footfall at the railway station has drastically reduced from 60,000 a day before the outbreak to just 5,000 now. Many daily passengers on local trains lost their jobs due to the pandemic, reducing the footfall. This is why the number of passengers remains low despite some trains being restored,” he said.

Inqlabi Mazdoor Kendra central committee member Shyambir Shukla said there was a sense of fear among the workers in Gurugram, but they were not planning to return to their homes since industries were still operational. “The managements of some factories have assured them that a complete lockdown-like situation was unlikely and therefore they have decided to stay on,” said Mr. Shukla.

The number of passengers at the Kaushambi bus stand, which saw huge crowds of migrant workers in 2020, is swelling again. However, this time, the pandemic is just one of the factors on their mind. Many of them are heading home not because of the surge, but because of the wedding and harvest season, besides the panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh.

Caution to the wind

Most of them were also not conforming to COVID-19 protocols. Buses to Azamgarh and Lucknow were crammed, despite instructions that the capacity should be just 50%.

Conductors feel that as long as passengers are not standing in the aisles, the protocol is followed.

Rakesh Yadav, station in-charge, said there has been a 20% rise in passengers in the last two days.

“There are a number of factors and the virus is just one of them. We have enough buses and there is no pressure as of now,” he said.

Sanitiser dispensers and infrared thermometers too were absent in some places.

Mr. Yadav said the arrangement existed, but was missing at that particular moment. “Conductors and passengers are advised to follow COVID-19 protocols, but some don’t,” he said.

Madhuban, standing in front of a bus of Bihar State Transport Corporation, said he is rushing home to Gorakhpur to attend the upcoming panchayat polls.

Nearby, Rakesh, a daily wager from Pilibhit, was languishing on the floor.

“The project I was working on in Noida is over, so I am heading home. Abhi toh night curfew hai, pata nahin aage kya ho (there is a night curfew now, who knows what will happen next),” he wondered.

‘Drop in passengers’

At the Sahibabad railway station, the sanitiser dispenser had dried up. Station master Virendra Gupta said there has been a drop in the number of passengers in the last few days. Sanjay Kumar, senior commercial clerk, said 25 reservations used to be cancelled a day till March end, now the number has gone up to 35-40 a day. “There has been a decline in the number of non-reserved tickets as well,” he said.

Lal Kuan, on the outskirts of Ghaziabad on the Aligarh-Etah-Kanpur route, which emerged as an epicentre for migrant passengers last year, has yet to see the crowd swell. But here conductors continue to fill the seats that are left vacant at Kaushambi. Again, COVID protocol is conspicuous by its absence.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 5:50:52 PM |

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