Niranjan Zhore has been a driver for 14 years, but the 35-year-old says he has never had to face a day like this. His ears are ringing with the applause and words of gratitude from his passengers, but his mind is filled with trepidation as he drives the first batch of migrant workers from Dharavi on a 1,000-km journey back to their homes in Barmer, Rajasthan.
Zhore is driving the first bus that left Sunday from Mumbai with 21 migrant labourers from Dharavi on way to Barmer. Along the journey, while Zhore is thanked by his passengers, he remains anxious about contracting coronavirus. “I cannot afford to be stamped ‘home quarantined’ on the first trip that I made after being without work for over a month,” says Zhore, who was about to reach Barmer when he spoke to The Indian Express over phone on Monday.
With a seating capacity of 40, the bus left with 21 people — 18 men and three women — nearly half its capacity, at 11:30 pm on Sunday night from outside Dharavi police station. By 8 pm on Monday, the group driven by Zhore had nearly reached their destination and were just about 10 km away from Barmer. “Throughout the journey I have used sanitiser constantly and wearing gloves, mask. I have not touched anyone’s luggage and maintained social distancing to ensure I don’t contract the virus,” says Zhore.
Zhore’s biggest worry remained that he would be stamped ‘home quarantined’ once he reaches Maharashtra border after dropping the workers at Barmer.
Despite the government allowing movement of migrants by road, the drivers are being asked to home quarantine themselves once they reach Maharashtra from other states. According to him, six other drivers from his company on Sunday were stopped at the border and, after being held up for three hours, were allowed to go after being stamped. “One trip and 14 days at home is not really an option for people like me who earn about Rs 15,000 a month,” says Zhore, the sole breadwinner of his family of four who live in Andheri.
On his way to Barmer, the group was stuck for over three hours at Bhilad for verification of permits. “The police were scanning physical copies of documents instead of checking online,” says Zhore. After entering Gujarat, they struggled to find food. With all dhabas along the highway shut, it was only after crossing Ahmedabad that at around 2:30 pm the group found a hotel that gave them food parcels.
But all the problems along the way meant little for 31-year-old Khimaram Patel, who was overjoyed to be reaching home after over a month of waiting. Patel, who lived at Khambadevi in Dharavi and worked at a bag shop, said, “Dharavi is the worst affected area. When the government allowed buses to run, we did not wait for a train,” he says. Soon after the government announced guidelines allowing workers to book vehicles, Patel submitted an application at Dharavi police station on Saturday morning and contacted Netaji Shinde of N Enterprises for a bus. Within 24 hours Patel got the go-ahead from the police with appropriate verification.
According to Ramesh Nangare, senior inspector at Dharavi police station, the application of Patel was proper and was processed quickly because the Rajasthan government had not put any conditions.
Patel along with 20 others paid Rs 4,000 each for the 1,000 km journey, costing the group about Rs 80,000. But for Shinde, the home quarantine stamp is a constant worry. “Six of my drivers have been home quarantined already, it is not possible to keep people at home for 14 days after a single trip,” he said.
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