“We’ve paid Rs 3,500 per head. There is a truck waiting for us at Thane. I had run out of money, so I asked my brother to wire me some,” said Vivek Tiwari (26), from UP’s Allahabad and is walking towards Thane’s Teen Hath Naka from a hotspot in Mulund (West), where 23 people recently tested positive for Covid-19.
Tiwari is part of a group of five who have decided to walk and hitchhike their way to UP. Santosh Jaiswal (30), another member of the group, said, “We live in small houses with four to five other people. We are worried we will catch the infection.. we don’t have money for rent. We barely have enough for daily needs and the landlord is unrelenting.”
Thousands of migrants continue to pour out on the highways of Maharashtra with nothing more than a few rupees in their pocket, a knapsack over their backs, and a prayer on their lips to take them home.
And for trucks ferrying essentials to city areas, transporting migrants after they have emptied their goods has come as a business opportunity. Each truck accommodates around 30 to 40 migrants, charging between Rs 3,500 to Rs 5,000 per head. The fare for the Mumbai-Delhi Rajdhani Express is a little over Rs 4,000.
Those walking to the waiting trucks at Thane are coming from as far as Goregaon, Sion and Wadala in Mumbai.
Mulund BJP MLA Mihir Kotecha said, “There must be at least six police check points between Sion and the Mulund toll booth. How are these people crossing them? Why aren’t they being stopped?”
He said, “I’ve been trying to convince migrant families… We’ve also been promising shelter and food. But most seem unwilling to stay back.”
There are “guides” – apparently working on behalf of the truck drivers – accompanying groups of workers to show them roads that bypass police pickets and toll booths. Daboo Pandey, a guide accompanying Tiwari’s group, takes them through a broken wall at Mulund’s Neelam Nagar that opens beyond the Mulund toll naka into Thane. “They are new to the city. I’ve just come to drop them,” said Pandey. But Vishal Jaiswal (18), one of the workers in the group, said Pandey was helping them cross over to the other side.
Though Shramik trains have been leaving Mumbai from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Bandra Terminus and Borivali, the number of those walking and hitchhiking hasn’t gone down.
Abhay Yawalkar, Director of Maharashtra Disaster Management Authority, said the state had arranged 65 trains, and state transport buses are also being used to ferry migrants to the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border.
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