Ramcharan owns just two clothes packed in a red bag, a hand sanitiser and a new face mask safely tucked away in his pocket — he used a gamcha to cover his face, saving the mask for the next few months. He worked at a tent-making unit near Haryana, making Rs 400 per day. “I have nothing left for my family. I begged the authorities for additional masks for my wife and children. Bimari toh kahin bhi aa sakti hai,” he said.
Ramcharan was among 1,078 migrants to board the first train that left at 8 pm from New Delhi Railway Station for Madhya Pradesh’s Chhatarpur district on Thursday. The migrants were brought to the station in buses from across the city and were handed a face mask, one hand sanitiser, a water bottle and a packet of biscuits. The next train leaves for Bihar at 3 pm Friday.
Officials in the Delhi government migrants did not have to pay for the journey.
ADM (West) Dharmendra said 128 persons were sent from the district. DM (North) Shinde Deepak Arjun said 81 migrants from the district were brought to the station by afternoon: “They were screened by doctors, provided food and water.”
At least 12 DTC buses ferried 221 migrant labourers from South Delhi’s Radha Swami shelter home to the station. Likewise, at least 150 labourers were ferried in 10 buses from nine shelter homes in Southeast Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, Madanpur Khadar, Sarai Kale Khan and Jangpura.
Security arrangements were made by Delhi Police. DCP (South) Atul Kumar Thakur said, “Social distancing norms were followed inside buses.”
DCP (Southeast) R P Meena said each person’s temperature was checked before they boarded the bus. DCP (Central) Sanjay Bhatia said 90 migrant labourers from his district were escorted, and DCP (North) Monika Bhardwaj said a list of 96 migrants from MP has been prepared and they will be taken to the railway station Friday.
The first buses from Central Delhi arrived at the station around 4 pm. The migrants, who worked as construction workers in Delhi-NCR, were given a choice by their employers to return to work but they refused fearing further restrictions.
Among those heading home is Devi Prasad (37), who called his employer for weeks. He worked at a construction site in Southeast Delhi and was supposed to be paid Rs 3,600 for 12 days of work before the lockdown. When his employer finally called and asked him to come to work, Prasad refused: “They said to forget wages for some time and keep working. I thought if they can’t pay me, will they even afford my lunch? I have worked on farms before and will gladly work there.”
Anil (37), who worked at a construction site for the past 10 years, said he had been staying in a one-room flat in central Delhi, paying rent of Rs 2,000. He could not pay rent during the lockdown and moved to a local school with his three children aged between 5 and 10. “My family does not own any land but at least they will take care of me; they have some savings. I have to find work now.”
Rajbala (33) has two bighas of land and seven brothers who have staked claim to it. She and her husband worked at a construction site in Delhi and have not been paid since the lockdown. “They will be pleased that I returned but eventually there will be fights. My husband has some land where we can at least get to eat gehu,” she said. Her husband Ravi (37) added, “I married her against her family’s wishes. They won’t be happy to see us.”
Meanwhile, Saraswati Devi (60), a domestic worker from Rajasthan, walked over three hours to the station to be told only trains to Madhya Pradesh were leaving today. She had come to city to meet her relatives before the lockdown and was robbed of Rs 3,000 and two phones. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she walked towards Mandi House, hoping to find a shelter home.
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