As the seven-coach train entered Nasik Road station at around 8 pm on Friday, a wave of relief swept across those sitting in well-arranged queues on the platform, waiting to board the first passenger train that would chug out of Maharashtra—nearly 41 days after train services came to a grinding halt on March 22 as part of the national lockdown.
To allow stranded migrants to return home, the Maharashtra government Friday requistioned a special train for Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh in which 332 labourers left for home.
Among the lucky ones was Mahesh Baghde, whose phone kept buzzing as he waited to board. “My family is calling to check if I have boarded. Those living with us at shelter homes also want to know if we made it,” he said with a smile. Mahesh, who worked at a construction site in Thane, had begun walking home on March 29. He was stopped near Kasara in Thane and put up at a shelter in Nashik.
To ensure social distancing, there were 54 people each in the six coaches. Instead of eight persons in one lobby of a sleeper coach, only six were seated.
From 7 pm, over 10 buses brought the 332 workers and others from 27 shelter homes in Nashik district. As they alighted, some with all their belongings, including clothes and utensils, and others with nothing but two bottles of water given by the authorities, the one word one all of their lips was ghar (home).
While some had children back home, some parents, others had farms to take care of.
Janki Devi, in her 30s, with a toddler in her arms, said that she had walked for two days from Karjat in Raigad to Nashik after she stopped working in March. Devi said she had not even heard of the COVID-19 pandemic when work at the project site suddenly stopped.
“We waited for a few days but then our contractor ran away without paying us. We then decided to walk home, as we saw many doing the same,” she said. Devi said she will return once work resumes here. “Aur kahaan jayenge? Jab wapas aa sakte hai, aayenge.”
The migrant workers were asked to pay for their tickets back home—about Rs 215 for a general class ticket. “It is a dignified way to send them home,” said collector Suraj Mandhare.
But for Sawant Kochle, the around Rs 500 he spent on his and his wife’s tickets was the only cash he had on him. “We spent our money in buying things like breakfast or milk. I have no money left.”
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