For the past four days, the Pune City Police has been facilitating private bus trips for hundreds of stranded migrants from across Maharashtra and other states to various cities in Marathwada and Vidarbha, at the Wagheshwar Parking Yard near Wagholi on the Pune-Ahmednagar Road.
Although fares are three to four times higher than usual, it has not deterred migrants who are queuing up to secure a seat after undergoing primary screening by a doctor present at the spot, who checks the temperature and issues a medical certificate. With police personnel busy approving passengers for the buses, which run from a nearby pandal in Wagheshwar Yard, this has led to a situation where almost every social distancing norm is being violated.
Assistant Sub-inspector Rahul Patil, who was among the police personnel issuing transit passes to buses, said that since Tuesday, morning, more than 130 buses were issued transit passes by the team. “Almost all these buses are going to Vidarbha or Marathwada,” said Patil.
The buses are running trips to Nagpur, Akola, Amaravati, Yavatmal, Nanded, Parbhani, Latur and Jalgaon.
When asked about the failure to maintain order at the Yard, a senior official with Pune Police said, “People have become desperate to return home and are not ready to listen.”
The Pune City Police has deployed a team staffers which checks that every passenger who has bought the ticket has submitted the medical certification and a copy of the ID card. Once the list is approved – with the number of passengers allowed being half the carrying capacity – passengers board the buses with one person sitting in each row.
The fares, approved by the police, are three to four times the average fares in summer season. For instance, one seat in a non-AC seater bus cost Rs 2,200 while in non-AC sleeper it was Rs 3,200. For Nagpur, the rates are Rs 2,000 for non-AC seater and Rs 3,000 for non-AC sleeper. For Nanded, Rs 1,500 for non-AC seater and Rs 2,200 for non-AC sleeper.
Govind Misare, a construction worker from Gondia who works in Balewadi in Pune, said he paid Rs 1,500 to hire an autorickshaw to travel from Balewadi to Wagholi and then paid Rs 3,200 to book a seat in the bus. “That’s the only option I could see,” said Misare.
A large number of those travelling to Gondia were migrants from Chhattisgarh. “We have been waiting for a call from the police station to board the train to Raipur, but it’s been a week and we have not received any information. So, we have finally decided to go to Gondia and from there, we will cross into Chhattigarh and walk the remaining 200 km to our home,” said Yuvraj Nishad, who works in Dalwinagar in Pune. He was with 10 other family members, including five women.
Outside the Wagheshwar Yard, several hundred migrants from Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have set up camp, hoping to find some way to reach their homes via private buses or trucks that are surreptitiously carrying passengers. Some said they stopped buses which were heading towards Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, but the fare asked by the driver was beyond their ability to pay.
“The bus-wallah asked for Rs 6,500 for one person. I have 10 family members with me,” said Niyaz Ali from Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur district. Ali is not able to shell out the sum needed to take a bus, so he approached the trucks heading towards Lucknow. “The trucks, which are dumping 75-80 people inside, are charging Rs 3,000 per person. We don’t’ have that much money,” he said.
Ali and all others with him have submitted an application to the Wagholi Gram Panchayat along with a medical certificate, asking to be taken to Lucknow in special ‘Shramik Trains’, but none of them has heard back from the authorities. “We are ready to walk but the police have blocked the road at Wagholi and Lonikund…and they are beating up those who want to cross the checkpoints on foot. One of the boys tried to cross the checkpoint to reach Lonikund, but the police beat him so badly that he started crying,” said Ali.
At least 2 km ahead on the road from Wagholi, at Lonikund, the local police station is plying Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Limited (PMPML) buses to the Madhya Pradesh border at Bijasan border crossing. Here, too, several hundred migrant families are waiting for the next PMPML bus with the hope to board it. The service is being offered free-of-charge.
Police Inspector Pratap Mankar of Lonikund Police Station said that with the district administration’s help, the police station is running buses which are taking stranded labourers to the Madhya Pradesh border. “We plied seven in the morning and by evening, we will send out five more. We are waiting for the buses,” he said.
A student, who was waiting on Tuesday for a bus that would take him home, said the police were not giving any information about the buses. “We have been waiting here for several hours and no bus has come. We were told that in the morning, some buses were sent from here. But now, the police is not giving any information. We are standing. No one is doing anything for us,” said the student.
The news of free buses to MP reached the lot migrants waiting in vain outside the Wagheshwar Parking Yard 2 kms away by the afternoon and they tried to move towards Lonikand but the police won’t let them.
“We have waited here for two days and found no affordable option. We will go to Lonikund and wait for the free bus service. If not today, tomorrow they will send us. But the police is unreasonably holding us hostage here,” said Pralhad Gaikwad, a stranded youngster.
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