For nearly two weeks, the national highways leading out of Pune were packed with migrant workers leaving the city on foot, trucks or other modes of transport. But on Sunday, flocks of migrants desperate to return to their home states from Pune had considerably thinned at the ‘exit points’ of national highways.
However, stray groups of workers keen to go to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh could be seen on Pune-Ahmednagar Road. Those on way to Chhattisgarh were assembled by police in Wagholi’s weekly market grounds and sent on state transport buses to border transit points.
The district administration said five ‘Shramik Special’ trains left Pune city, including two for Bihar and one for Uttar Pradesh. Officials said they were planning to run about 25 more trains — about 15 to UP, five to Bihar and another five to other states. The situation on the ground, however, appears different from this assessment by the district administration, as most migrant labourers seem to have already left the city on whatever transport available.
“Nobody is waiting for one’s turn in the ‘Shramik Specials’. People waited for a week and then left in trucks, tempos, two-wheelers and, also, on foot,” said Ahmed Ali, a migrant from Uttar Pradesh who works at a construction site in Wagholi. He too boarded a truck on Sunday afternoon, paying the driver Rs 3,500 like rest of the 40-odd passengers. “Until two days ago, every truck was carrying 85-90 people. Now it has come down to 30-50 passengers because many aren’t left,” said Ali.
Also, from Sunday, the city police have started barring trucks from carrying passengers. At Wagholi and Lonikund, policemen stopped the trucks and passengers, if found on them, were asked to deboard or return to their residences and wait for official arrangements. Several trucks headed to Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were, however, circumventing police checkpoints.
For the last four days, Lonikund police are supervising the operation of MSRTC buses from Wagholi weekly market grounds taking the stranded migrants assembled there to Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh borders. “A total of 24 buses have operated so far. This is being done to ensure the migrants don’t take to desperate measures such as walking or using illegal, dangerous means of transport,” said Inspector Pratap Mankar of Lonikund police station.
“I am here for the last four days with my sister, her child and my brother-in-law. Now it appears our turn will come to board the buses. This is a free and reliable service from police,” said Jivan Joshi, from Durg district in Chhattisgarh, adding that he faced no shortage of food but it was tough queueing up with an infant for a long time.
Group of eight leaves for Jharkhand on bicycles
A group of eight youth, who worked at a construction site in Pirangut on the western border of Pune city, left for their homes in East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, about 1,650 km from Pune, on bicycles. They said they had no option as being a small group they could not hire a truck or bus. Even after submitting applications for Shramik Special trains, they had not received any response for over 10 days.
“So, we decided to buy new bicycles. Fortunately, the shop was open in our area. We shelled out about Rs 5,500 each,” said Mahati Soren. They said they wanted to go back much earlier as they had been working in Pune for about a year and wanted to visit home. “We had booked train tickets for March 24. However, due to the lockdown the train was cancelled,” said Soren.
Raju Soren, who is part of the group, said the road journey might take them 10 days. “We are carrying hand air-pump and material to fix tyre punctures. We don’t have any rice but a few kilos of chana,” he said, adding that the group was prepared to stay in quarantine for 14 days in their village if asked to do so.
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