Despite the state government making an exception and allowing inter-district travel to Konkan for Ganesh Chaturthi, the mandatory 10-day home quarantine, along with poor last mile connectivity, seems to have damped the mood for lakhs of people who would travel to their villages from Mumbai.
The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) has seen only about 11,000 reservations for its bus services to the Konkan districts, one week after they were announced. This is in stark contrast to the nearly 5.37 lakh passengers it had ferried to the villages and back to Mumbai just last year for the annual festival.
Another 5,000 people have taken private buses so far as against around 60,000 ferried last year.
The MSRTC’s Mumbai Central depot, one of the 10 boarding points for Konkan, wore a deserted look on Tuesday with only a handful of passengers waiting for the three buses to Ratnagiri.
Shantaram Dhansekar (55), along with his wife and son, was one of the few passengers who have decided to go to their village in Ratnagiri. Each year, Dhansekar would travel in a group of around 12 to 13 people, including his extended family, friends and neighbours, but this year, it’s just the three of them.
“Many members of my family could not make it as offices have just reopened. It’s not possible for all to take leave for 15 to 20 days, considering the 10-day mandatory quarantine period we have to undergo,” said Dhansekar. Many people are travelling alone, more to ensure that family tradition isn’t broken, than looking forward to Ganesh Chaturthi as a get-together with friends and family. Upon reaching their destinations, the first people they see are the medical team personnel deputed at each bus stop to screen them.
Dhanekar and the others who left for Ranagiri were taken to a nearby municipal school where they were made to fill a self-declaration form, putting out their details, and then screened before being stamped “home quarantine” on their hands.
These measures were put in place following strong opposition from villagers and local administration, who feared a spike in Covid-19 cases.
The government has made it mandatory for all passengers traveling between August 5 to 12 to be home quarantined for 10 days. Those traveling after August 13 would have to undergo Covid-19 test about 48 hours before travel and furnish a negative report to book a ticket.
The drivers have been instructed to run point-to-point buses from Mumbai to various regions in Konkan.
Many passengers, like Milind Jathar (49), decided to head to Konkan as he got a reserved ticket before August 12. “I would not have traveled after August 12, and even now I have carried my laptop to work from home. We would ideally leave only two days before the festival but now we have to plan for at least 20 days,” said Jathar, a web designer traveling with his son. After reaching Hathkhamba, his village in Ratnagiri, Jathar was told that instead of the stipulated 10-days home quarantine, the father-son duo will have to remain in isolation for 14 days. The Ganesh idol will be delivered to their home to ensure they don’t step out.
If the long quarantine period is not the only challenge, those who have reached their districts have to struggle with last mile connectivity to their villages, as little to no local transportation is available.
Amrish Adav (53), who reached Shrivardhan around 6.30 am on Wednesday, had to wait for over an hour before he could finally manage a private vehicle after shelling out nearly Rs 600 to travel 25 km. “At the depot, we were told that local bus services are not operational,” he said. After finally reaching his village, he was instructed that even when the quarantine period ended, the family would receive no visitors as a precautionary measure. “All friends and neighbours would get together for aarti, but now it will be just the three of us. It almost begs the questions that do the villages not consider us as one of their own,” said Adav.
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