With their livelihoods coming to a halt after imposition of the countrywide lockdown, thousands of daily wage workers and labourers thronged the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border on Saturday in the hope of reaching their homes in far-flung areas, notwithstanding the threat of spread of the coronavirus disease.
Hordes of people, including women and children, with their bags on their heads and backs -- many also wearing protective masks -- waited in long queues to board buses at the Anand Vihar Interstate Bus Terminal in New Delhi.
Earlier in the day, the Uttar Pradesh government announced that it has arranged 1,000 buses to ferry migrant labourers stranded in the border districts owing to a countywide lockdown.
The Delhi government also announced that 100 buses have been deployed to help those trying to reach on foot their homes in other states, many of them hundreds of kilometres away.
Although the police had made people stand in three queues, the serpentine lines didn't seem to end as there was a steady flow of migrant workers who wanted to go back to their towns and villages citing lack of employment due to the lockdown.
Many struggled to board the buses packed to the hilt. The police also made people de-board overcrowded buses to avoid spread of the infection.
Good Samaritans distributed food to those preparing for their journeys.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nation-wide lockdown from March 25 following which all transport services -- road, rail and air -- were suspended.
Daily wage workers were among the worst hit by the lockdown and thousands started heading back home in different states.
In the absence of availability of transportation, a large number of them undertook their long journeys on foot.
But with the UP and Delhi governments arranging buses to ferry those stranded on the state borders, many decided to take a chance, thereby crowding the Delhi borders.
Jwatam Kumar, 24, who works in a faucet factory, said his unit has been shut due to the lockdown.
He is paid Rs 8,000 a month on a fortnightly basis. With no means of making a living and paying for food and accommodation, he wanted to go back home in Aligarh.
"I had made up my mind to walk back, but now I heard through news channels that Uttar Pradesh government has made provision of taking people to their homes. So, I will take the bus," said Kumar, who was headed to Anand Vihar ISBT.
Sachin Kanojia, 29, who took a shared auto-rickshaw from Rohtak to Delhi that charged Rs 500 per seat, said the factory he worked in was closed due to the lockdown.
He earns Rs 10-12,000 per month but now with no income for the next three weeks, he was heading back home.
"I will get a bus from Anand Vihar," said Kanojia, who was headed to Lucknow.
Like Kanojia and Kumar, Omkar Maurya too was headed home to Amethi. Maurya, who works as a daily wage worker putting up tents for marriage ceremonies, said with no money in his pocket it was better for him to go back home.
"Now that there are bus services, it is good that I go back home till the situation becomes normal," Maurya said.
Earlier in the day, a UP government spokesman said that officials of the Transport Department bus drivers and conductors were contacted on Friday night to help the people who were stranded in Noida, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahar and Aligarh, among other places.
"Till late in the night, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was busy issuing instructions for arranging buses for the purpose," the spokesman said, adding that the CM also directed officials to arrange for food and water for such people and their families.
On Saturday morning, senior police officers reached the Charbagh bus station in Lucknow to ensure that those arriving there were provided with food and water.
The buses later left for Kanpur, Ballia, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Faizabad, Basti, Pratapgarh, Sultanpur, Amethi, Rae Bareli, Gonda, Etawah, Bahraich and Shravasti.
UP Director General of Police Hitesh Chandra Awasthi and Lucknow Police Commissioner Sujit Kumar Pande were personally present at the bus station to monitor the arrangements, the spokesman added.
Delhi minister hits the streets, urges migrant workers not to leave city
Meanwhile, Delhi minister Rajendra Pal Gautam hit the streets in the national capital on Saturday to urge lockdown-hit migrant workers not to leave the city.
The social justice minister reached the Anand Vihar area around 12.30 pm and addressed migrant workers, labourers and daily wagers, who usually come to Delhi in search of a livelihood, with the help of a mic installed in his car.
"Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has sent me here. I appeal to you please don't leave Delhi, please return to your places," he said.
The minister said the Delhi government has made arrangements to give them shelter and free food.
"You will be given free food in nearby schools. Those who don't have a place to live can stay in night shelters," he said.
10 hide themselves in tanker to reach Rajasthan, held
10 migrant labourers were on Saturday found travelling to Rajasthan from neighbouring Thane district by hiding themselves inside an empty milk tanker amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown, police said.
All the 10 persons, including some women, were detained by the police at Talasari in Palghar district, located along the Maharashtra-Gujarat border, an official said.
"10 persons, including some women, hid themselves inside the milk tanker. They started their journey from Kalyan in neighbouring Thane district and wanted to go to their home state of Rajasthan.
"They chose this method as regular transport vehicles are currently not available due to the lockdown," spokesperson of Palghar police, Hemant Katkar, said.
"When the vehicle reached Talasari check-post, the police sensed something amiss and checked the tanker. During the search, they found the 10 persons hiding inside," he added.
All of them are labourers from Rajasthan working in and around Mumbai, Katkar said.
"They have been detained and booked under Indian Penal Code section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant)," he added.
On Friday, the Thane city police had caught 40 migrant labourers when they were heading to Uttar Pradesh in a truck.
They had been booked by the police.