The long-awaited homecoming for about 3,700 Punjabi pilgrims stuck in Hazur Sahib gurdwara in Maharashtra’s Nanded will come at the end of a long and tiring non-stop journey of about 45 hours as 100 government-owned AC buses will travel 1700-km one-way to bring them back to their home state.
The first lot of 10 buses carrying 219 pilgrims from the holy place would be entering Bathinda on Sunday morning. From there, the pilgrims will begin their onward journey to their towns and villages after undergoing a screening. The pilgrims would be home-quarantined and stamped for 14 days.
Stranded at the gurdwara due to national lockdown, the pilgrims have been waiting to be rescued. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has been taking up the issue with the Maharashtra and Union governments before finally getting the permission to transport these pilgrims.
Devinderpal Singh, a pilgrim who is on board the first convoy that started from the gurdwara on Friday evening, said, “We have reached Neenunch on Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh border. We will be reaching Bathinda on Sunday morning. After that we will be going to Mohali and Chandigarh. The buses are comfortable though the journey is long. We are all reciting kirtan to reach safe.”
While 17 buses reached Nanded on Friday, 80 PRTC and PUNBUS buses were flagged off by Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal on Saturday. All the buses are being sanitised from time to time.
“Each bus has three drivers each so that they drive in shifts to reach Punjab safely. This is a long journey. They will take 45 hours to reach and 45 hours to come back. Also, due to the lockdown, it is an arduous journey. We have sent security personnel on each bus so that they do not have a problem due to the lockdown. The staff has been provided with masks and sanitisers,” an official of Transport Department told The Indian Express.
He added, the pilgrims have not been asked to maintain social distancing onboard as they all have been together and have been practically quarantined for over 40 days. “When they come back, they will again be quarantined,” he said.
Since the shops, dhabas and eateries have been closed due to lockdown, the pilgrims would be made to eat langar at the gurdwaras on the way. “It is a long journey. Hence, the food for the entire stretch cannot be packed. We have sent some packed snacks for them to get going,” said the official.
Another jatha of 153 pilgrims on board seven buses has also started the journey from Nanded, said the official.
40 buses on standby
While 97 buses have been sent to fetch the pilgrims, the government has put on standby 40 more buses in Nanded. “We have a shortage of drivers. In case, more buses are needed, we will engage those on standby. Though for now, we have a shortage of drivers.”
Many waiting to board
Inderjit Singh, a farmer from Naushera Pannuan village in Tarn Taran, who is stranded in Hazur Sahib gurdwara for 45 days, is waiting to board the bus. His wheat fields are waiting for him. “The government has finally organised our trip back home. My wheat is waiting to be harvested. Though I will have to be in quarantine, I will manage the harvesting with the help of labour,” he said adding that at least 15 more farmers of his village were with him.
Some came back on a taxi
While Inderjit Singh stayed back, his associates from the same village hired a taxi from Nanded to reach Taran Tarn 20 days ago. “It was a horrible journey. I do not think even the partition days would have been so difficult. We came from the forests of Madhya Pradesh as the police was beating up people. It took us 4-5 days to reach without food and water most of the time,” said Gurpinderjit Singh, a farmer.
Politics over buses
While a credit war has started between Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal for getting permission from the Centre for the journey of the pilgrims, the state government wanted to make sure that it sends its own buses to the gurdwara to fetch the pilgrims. Earlier, an aide of former Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s family offered his buses, and even Harsimrat Badal offered their own buses, but the government did not accept the offer.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines