Migrant workers returning from Delhi and other cities of Uttar Pradesh continued to arrive in Lucknow on Sunday but for many their journey home was not without much struggle, confusion and stress due to change in boarding stations.
Also read | Similar stories, very personal tragedies
Several migrants who arrived in the Uttar Pradesh capital had to scamper from one bus station to another in search of transportation. The situation was stark at the Qaiserbagh bus station where desperate migrants arriving in search of conveyance were chased away by police who allegedly ask them to walk to their homes in Purvanchal, hundreds of kms away, or go to the outskirts of the city. The migrants said they were told that bus services to their native districts were available only on Saturday and early Sunday.
“They are asking us to walk,” said Ramesh Sharma, a carpenter who arrived from Delhi by bus via Kanpur. “We went to the Charbagh station, they sent us to Qaiserbagh and when we reached here, they asked us to walk,” said Mr. Sharma outside the bus station around 12.30 pm.
No advance notice
For reasons known to the administration, the arriving migrants were not given advanced notice about their boarding places due to which many of them turned up at Qaiserbagh from where buses to east Uttar Pradesh usually move. Mr. Sharma got a bus to Gonda but after walking several km to the polytechnic intersection.
Virender Kumar, a wallpaper maker, arrived in Lucknow along with 11 associates after a tedious journey from the Anand Vihar terminus in Delhi. After boarding a roadways bus in Delhi, Mr. Kumar was dropped near Hathras from where he boarded a truck.
“The bus conductor not only charged us ₹300 instead of ₹155 but also made us to sit on the roof of the vehicle. It was cold at night,” said Mr. Kumar.
Packed in truck
After walking for another 15-20 minutes, the group found a truck which dropped them at a nondescript location, from where they had to hike 35-40 km in the night to reach the highway and board another truck towards the outskirts of Lucknow. “We were packed in the truck like cattle fodder,” recounted Mr. Kumar who arrived at Qaiserbagh station after paying another ₹3,000 to an SUV as fare.
Mr. Kumar alleged that not only did police chase them away from the bus station without any directions but some of them also taunted them. “ Police wale keh rahe hai ki yeh log jo hai corona leke yahan agaye hai. Jao idhar se jao, udhar se jao [policemen said that we are coming here to spread the coronavirus . Go away from here, go that way, they told us],” said Mr. Kumar.
The group found a bus towards home but only after walking another 45 minutes.
An official of the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation said police stationed outside the Qaiserbagh and Charbagh bus stations were told to re-direct the incoming migrants towards boarding points near Alambagh and Gomti Nahar on the outskirts.
The change in boarding places was made overnight by the administration after instructions from the government but it was known only in the morning, the official said.
After around 8-10 buses plied from Charbagh all buses were re-directed from the two new points thereafter. “These people must have arrived late but we had placed a person there at 8-9 a.m. to announce the change. Police at the outpost were also told to direct them to Nahariya in Alambagh and Kamta near Gomti Nagar, “ said the official, adding that so far around 1,500-1,600 buses had plied across Uttar Pradesh to transport the migrants.
Police to the rescue
Ankita Singh and her family, however, were among the many who had no clue about the change in route. They had to wait for several hours on the street as they were told all buses had left in the morning. Eventually, police came to their rescue.
“They didn’t even let us sit there [bus station]. Now where do I take these two little children and sit in the sun,” said Ms. Singh, a resident of Hardoi, in the afternoon. She was coming from Kanpur where her husband works in a plywood factory. Stranded without any means of transportation, the family spent several hours on the pavement outside a police station before deciding to walk around 10 km to the Dubagga market where police helped them board a supply truck later in the day.
The Singh family had no option but to leave for Hardoi as they had run out of ration. “We had just returned to Kanpur after the Holi break. How much can a person earn and save in a couple of weeks,” she asked. “We had reached desperation in just one week [of lockdown and curfew], how would we have survived a month?”
CM inspects toll
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath inspected the toll at Lucknow-Agra Expressway and interacted with migrant workers coming in.
He instructed officials to prepare a list of migrants coming into Uttar Pradesh from other States and identify those people who had arrived in the last three days, carry out their medical inspection and put suspect cases under home quarantine.
Those migrants coming through buses will be screened and if found suspected, these cases will be isolated in hospitals, said Amit Mohan Prasad, Principal Secretary, Health. The district magistrates have been asked to keep the asymptomatic people in different facilities like schools and dharmashalas under quarantine till the due period, Mr. Prasad added.
There is no community spread in Uttar Pradesh yet, clarified Mr. Prasad.
Awanish Awasthi, Additional Secretary, Home, said the Chief Minister had instructed that the screening of incoming migrants be done under any cost. Mr. Adityanath also issued orders that no landlord in the State would demand rent from workers or labourers for a month.