Vikram Patel’s phone rings every now and then. It is always his parents at the other end, asking him where he has reached. The anticipation is only understandable. Patel, who makes bags at Dharavi’s famous leather market, had been trying to return to his hometown ever since the lockdown was imposed in March.
Finally, on Sunday night, Patel, who came to Mumbai to earn a living four years ago, stepped onto a Jyoti Travels bus that would take him, his relatives and a group of his fellow workers — in all 20 people — back to Rajasthan.
The catch: They had arranged the bus on their own and are each paying Rs 25 per km to the travel agency they had booked. In all, the 20 people are paying around Rs 25,000 for a ride home.
When 100 km from Barmer district in Rajasthan where his parents live, Patel told The Indian Express over phone, “We have crossed the Gujarat border and should be home in two hours. My parents can’t wait to see me.”
Unlike Patel, many continue to struggle with filling and submitting forms seeking permission to return home.
Altaf Khan, a 22-year old resident of Jharkhand, went to a police chowki at Saki Naka on Sunday and stood in a queue from 11 am to 7 pm. He was eventually asked to return the next day.
On Monday, however, the police told him to attach a passport size photograph on the medical certificate and get it stamped by the doctor who screened him. “There are no photo studios open. Only a few of us have photographs with us. We do not know what to do,” said Khan, who works at a garment unit and has spent Rs 150 on the medical certificate and Rs 10 on the form.
An officer said while a photograph on the form is required, they are being flexible with workers who may not have the form.
Immediately on hearing last Friday that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had allowed migrants to travel back home, workers plunged into the process of completing formalities, such as arranging for a medical certificate and a means to travel. Finally by Sunday night, those who had managed to complete the formalities, as well as arrange transport, started leaving for their villages.
Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Pranay Ashok said, “At least 1,000 migrant workers have left for their hometowns so far in nearly 25 buses. Some workers have also managed to arrange for mini-vans and other modes of transport.”
As per officers, buses and other vehicles, all privately arranged by the migrants, are leaving from several parts of Mumbai. For those leaving from Dharavi, the designated boarding point set by the police is opposite the Dharavi police chowki, and it is the police who ensure that there is enough distancing in the bus.
Patel and his group were in one of the first ones to leave Dharavi around 10.30 pm on Sunday. The bus could seat 40 but only 20 boarded. Other than Dharavi, buses and private vehicles left from several parts of the city and its adjoining areas, including Borivali Charkop, Agripada, Mulund and Andheri.
Patel said, “As soon as the permission was given by the government, we looked up online and got a number for a travel agency. We spoke to them and they agreed to take us to Rajasthan by charging us Rs 25 per km. We informed the police, and after they checked our paperwork, they allowed us to go.”
DCP Ashok said that it was easier to send migrants to states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Orissa, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. “These states have given a general consent, which means we do not need to seek their permission before we allow migrants to leave for these states.” But for those wanting to head to Uttar Pradesh, the procedure is more long-winded with clearances required from the receiving state.
DCP Ankit Goyal, whose jurisdiction covers areas like Saki Naka that have a considerable migrant population, said: “As many as 32 people left in around six vehicles for Rajasthan. Since the state is closer, it becomes easier. We are also trying to arrange for trains from the city which would be able to transport more people.”
Arranging for their own transport, however, is not an option for those who have no savings. Jagdish Soni, a 56-year old resident of Uttar Pradesh, with two minor daughters back home, said he has only Rs 250 left, borrowed from a contractor.
Soni has also made two trips to the Kajupada police chowki in Andheri. “They told us that we had filled the wrong form. We went back and got another one from a shop. In the evening again, they told us to return the next day when we might be given tokens for our turn,” the 56-year old said.