IT IS 6 am Sunday, and Lucknow’s Charbagh railway station is abuzz as the first train carrying migrants from another state slowly draws into the station, and stops at platform number one.
A team of policemen and officials carrying boxes of food wait for the 847 migrants to alight from train number 02121, which has travelled from the city of Nashik in Maharashtra. Eight counters have also been set up for their thermal screening.
As the train comes to a halt, announcements begin on the loudspeaker. “Ek yatri doossre yatri se uchit doori banaye rakhein, kisi bhi prakaar ki jaldbaazi na karein (Maintain distance from one another, there is no need to hurry).”
Zubair Khan, 28, is among the first ones to get off the train. He stands at least two metres from the next passenger. Khan, who works at a cloth factory in Mumbai’s Bhiwandi area, is carrying a toothbrush in his pocket, and a small backpack dangles from his shoulder.
The train journey was smooth, he says, and adds that now all he wants is to get to his home in Farrukhabad city, another 180 km away. “I have been waiting to get home for a month. Now, I can’t wait. But, what choice do I have?” he asks, while his fellow passengers try to hear him amid the loud announcements. All the passengers say they had to purchase tickets for Rs 470.
Khan and most others spent the last month at a shelter home in Nashik after the local administration caught them trying to walk home amid the lockdown. “What choice did we have? Work at the factory had stopped completely,” he says.
Pramod Kumar, an 18-year-old soap-factory worker standing a few paces behind Khan, says he has never felt as alone as he did in the last one month. His factory is also in Bhiwandi. “It was a new place, new city for me. I have never lived alone. In Mumbai, I live with my brother, who looks after everything. But he had gone home for a few days when the lockdown was announced. After that, I was completely alone and there were so many rumours – we will be put in jail, we will never leave the shelter…I am happy I am back, but I can’t forget the last month,” adds Kumar, clutching onto his trunk.
Even as the others complete the formalities, 19-year-old Sapna Patel and her husband Rajesh Patel, 23, remain in the train, awaiting their turn.
Asked about the journey, Sapna starts talking, but is interrupted by her husband, “The journey was good. We got three meals and there were no delays. We felt special that ours was the only train moving with passengers. But I don’t understand why the government didn’t do this earlier,” says Rajesh, who works in a lipstick factory in Navi Mumbai. Sapna is a housewife who manages their one-room home in the city.
Meanwhile, at one of the thermal screening counters, Arvind Kumar Singh, a government-appointed pharmacist, examines the passengers. “Till now, all the people who have crossed the counter have normal temperature. We are writing down the name, father’s name, age and temperature in our register. We are also checking the clearance slip given by the Nashik administration at the shelter home where they were kept,” he adds.
After the screening, the migrants receive the food box containing puri bhaji, and head to their buses. The protocol for lining up outside the vehicles is the same – “maintain distance”.
The entire exercise is being supervised by Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) regional manager PK Bose. He says 32 buses have been arranged, of which 27 will leave for specific districts. “There are five buses in reserve. We are allowing a maximum of 33 people in one bus. We have put out a hoarding with details about the destination, numbers, vehicle numbers, their conductor’s and other officials’ numbers, so that no one has any confusion,” he adds, pointing to the billboard.
A few migrants in a queue complaint about all these procedures. “Kitni line mein lagna padega, ghar jaane se pehle? (How many queues will we have to stand in before we get home?)” asks Anil Kumar, 28, who is headed to Pratapgarh.
Kumar, who used to be a daily wage-earner in Mumbai, says the future looks uncertain. “We don’t know what will happen to us whether we will get to work in our villages or not. We have earned no money for a month and now, we might be kept in a shelter for 14 days. We will get food, but we have other needs as well,” he adds.
On Sunday, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced that shelter homes with a capacity to house 12 to 15 lakh people would be established for the returning migrants. District Magistrates and Superintendents of Police will monitor these camps.
“The CM has also instructed officials to ensure that arrangements at community kitchens are also made more robust,” the government said in a statement, adding that two trains from Gujarat would reach the state on Sunday night, while three more trains would arrive from Maharashtra on Monday.
The CM has also said that migrants reaching the districts must be checked for symptoms at shelter homes. “If they are healthy, they can be allowed to stay in home quarantine after they are given a ration kit. If anyone has symptoms, then they must be thoroughly checked and if they are positive, they should be moved to isolation wards,” read the government statement.
The Chief Minister has also instructed officials to make plans for the employment of around 15 lakh migrants expected to arrive from different states.
Around 7.30 am, Anil Kumar finally manages to board a bus. “I am very happy I got a window seat. Now, I can enjoy the view and the journey will end soon,” he adds, while a fellow passenger preaches caution.
“You won’t be allowed to go home straight away. It may even take a few days. So, don’t get too happy,” adds the passenger. Kumar’s smile disappears, and he takes out his mobile phone to call his parents, who are waiting for him in their village. “They keep calling and asking when I will get back. I will tell them that they will have to wait for a bit longer,” he adds, putting the phone to his ear.
Soon after, the buses leave for Kannauj, Farrukhabad, Mau, Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Sultanpur, Lalitpur, Urai, Prayagraj, Fatehpur, Banda, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, Siddharth Nagar, Shravasti, Gonda, Bahraich.
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