Sanju Bai’s one-year-old son hasn’t stopped crying for half an hour. To calm him down, she points to a government official and says, “Look, sir will get us our ride home.” Bai and her family have walked more than 300 km over the past five days from Punjab’s Sangrur to Delhi to Ghaziabad, hoping for a ride to their hometown in Panna, Madhya Pradesh.
Bai was among the 11,000-plus migrants from Delhi and neighbouring states, who poured into Ghaziabad’s Ramlila Maidan on Monday to register for a place on six trains being operated by the district administration — three heading to Bihar and three to Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
An order in this respect was circulated two days ago, and as news travelled, stranded migrants from Rajasthan, MP, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Noida started heading to the large ground in the hope of an elusive ticket home.
From early Monday morning, thousands of migrants could be seen standing in queues, waiting for a turn at the crowded registration counter. Despite videos showing the crowd jostling to register, done on a first come, first served basis, the administration maintained the event was not mismanaged and the crowd boarded peacefully.
“It is a success for the administration that in a single day, 9,000 people were provided with passes, checked medically and boarded successfully on six trains. Yes, there was a crowd, but they were disciplined. There were no protests against the administration, and no clashes or scuffles. They cooperated, and we told them repeatedly that they will get transport. Those who are left will either be given trains or buses along with proper food and other things,” said Ajay Shankar Pandey, District Magistrate, Ghaziabad.
Eighteen-year-old Arun Kumar quietly went through a food packet in a corner, occasionally sanitising his hand. While most migrants moved about in groups, Arun had walked alone from rural Ghaziabad to find a place in the train so he could go home to East Champaran in Bihar.
“I came here six months ago and was doing a private university course to become a loco train operator. I had also planned to pursue a diploma in media communication. But the lockdown altered my future and my life. My parents cannot send me a lot of money, and I have no relatives here. I looked up everything online. I feel afraid — more for my parents than myself,” said Arun.
Many migrants said they had started lining up as early as 6 am. Some claimed they had to wait for 8-10 hours only to be told they would have to wait for the next day’s train. Brief confusion also prevailed, with some labourers being asked to board UP buses, and then deboard citing administrative decisions.
Construction worker Ramesh Chaudhary (36) had walked from Gaur City in Greater Noida to Ghaziabad early morning hoping to find transport to Katihar. “I came here in January and was involved in construction work close to the township. After the lockdown was announced, we suddenly found ourselves hand to mouth because our contractor refused to give us wages. We have been borrowing money from home but it cannot go on like this,” said Ramesh.
According to officials, the trains will ferry passengers to Gorakhpur, Allahabad and Varanasi in UP, and Patna, Katihar and Araria in Bihar. Each train will also stop at smaller stations, as approved by the state government.
“No trains can be run without the consent of the receiving state. In this case, we had already taken consent from Bihar authorities, following which Railways sanctioned the run. The people, instead of crowding at the station, gathered at the ground first, which made their boarding smoother,” said Ajay Shankar Pandey.
Two days ago, the Ghaziabad administration had issued instructions that those wanting to travel on the trains can register and will receive an OTP. But most of those who showed up hadn’t registered. So authorities issued passes on the spot. People were made to board on first come, first served basis.