Seated at the back of a DTC bus, wearing a saffron-coloured turban and a cloth mask, Vasudev clutched a train ticket close to his chest. The ticket mentioned the journey as New Delhi Railway Station to Bihar’s Muzaffarpur. Vasudev was among 1,190 migrants and 10 children who travelled back home Friday after staying under lockdown in the capital — without a job and money — for over a month. On Thursday, a group of 1,078 migrants had made a similar journey to Madhya Pradesh.
A senior official said the Delhi government had paid for 1,200 tickets and that 1,190 adults and 10 children made the journey, while 10 people didn’t show up. “The Delhi government paid Rs 6.42 lakh for the tickets. In case of the migrants who travelled to Madhya Pradesh, Delhi didn’t have to pay. The MP government will foot the bill.” Each ticket cost Rs 535.
A statement released by the Delhi government later in the day said it would bear the cost of train tickets of migrant workers if their home states did not respond on the matter.
Jasmine Shah, vice-president of the Dialogue and Development Commission, a Delhi government think-tank, tweeted, “After sending names of over 12,000 stranded migrant workers in Delhi to their home states, hardly any have come forward to cover their fare. Starting with the train that left for Bihar today, the Arvind Kejriwal government will pay the fare for all migrant workers whose home governments are unwilling.” The government statement said as per current guidelines, the Centre and the home state should bear the cost of their travel.
Officials said 83 buses ferried the migrants to the station from shelters across Delhi, and a team of doctors screened and issued medical certificates to them. They were also provided lunch, along with food and water for the train journey, which started at 3 pm.
Before the migrants disembarked from the buses, they were stopped at a checkpoint where police personnel took down details of the areas the buses were coming from.
Sitting near the window of another bus was an elderly man, who said: “I came to Delhi a month ago with my wife. She is a heart patient and we wanted to see a doctor in AIIMS. Ilaj toh hua nahi, phas alag gaye (treatment didn’t happen, but we got stuck here because of the lockdown).”
Many migrant workers said they would return to Delhi after the lockdown lifts. “My employer tells me that work will start again from May 17. If it does, I will have to come back, there’s nothing to do in Bihar,” said Ranjit Kumar (22), who left all his belongings behind except for a pair of jeans and a shirt packed in a rucksack.
Kumar came to Delhi four years ago and had been working as a labourer in Dwarka, unloading marble slabs from trucks into shops in the area and earning about Rs 8,000 per month. The lockdown pushed him out of work and thinned out his savings. “I had set off on foot, after the lockdown was announced, to reach home. I left with my friends from Dwarka and was walking towards Palwal. But police caught us midway and put me in a school in Madanpur Khadar, where I stayed with 35 other people for a month,” he said.