Sunita Katar, a 40-year-old widow from Daithana in Parbhani district, had moved few months ago to Ahmednagar, about 250 kms away, to earn a living as a farm labourer. Although the nationwide lockdown implemented on March 24 closed all avenues of finding employment, she stayed back in Ahmednagar until the end of the second phase of the lockdown, which ended on May 3. On that day – when the movement of stranded persons was allowed but only with prior permission – she decided to walk home from Ahmednagar to Daithana by surreptitiously crossing the two district borders.
By Tuesday morning, she had covered 200 kms and had reached Manwat in Parbhani district. She was 48 km away from her home when she was reportedly crushed by a vehicle. Local police said it was not clear if she was mowed down while crossing the road or if she was trying to stop the vehicle to hitchhike. “She was travelling alone and illegally. Since it was very early in the morning and there are no closed circuit cameras, we don’t know what really happened,” said Shivaji Pawar, assistant police inspector with Manwat police station.
While the state agencies have set their focus on transportation of inter-state migrants who are stuck in cities like Pune and Mumbai, very little is being done for internal migrants who came to the big cities from poorer districts in Marathwada and Vidarbha in search of employment.
According to government estimates, there are approximately 3,00,000 students and migrant labourers stranded in cities, who want to go back to their homes in Marathwada or Vidarbha. On Wednesday, state Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Vijay Wadettiwar said his ministry has decided to use Maharashtra State Road Transport Coproration (MSRTC) buses to transport the stranded internal-migrants home from big cities like Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur.
“We are chalking out a plan. An expense of Rs 20 crore is expected for this and it will be borne by the Relief and Rehabilitation Ministry. The transport minister has agreed to provide MSRTC buses for this purpose. It will be a free service for the stranded persons,” said Wadettiwar.
He added that a final decision regarding the same will be announced in next two-three days.
Meanwhile, stranded migrants were running from pillar to post to obtain the travel passes to return home. At various police stations in Pune, where applications for transit passes are being accepted, those who approach with a request for an inter-district pass are being turned away.
“I submitted my request five days ago and have received no response yet,” said Puja Tambe, a student who wants a pass to return home in Beed district.
Of the total 28,773 requests the Pune Police has accepted at its 30 police stations by May 5, none was for travel within the state, said an officer. According to the police, although applications were not being received through police stations, they have been granting transit passes through their online platform, punepolice.in, but only in cases of “extreme emergency”, such as medical situation or death of a first relative.
‘Home districts reluctant to accept migrants’
Pune District Collector Naval Kishore Ram said several district administrations in Marathwada region were not willing to accept migrants workers wanting to return home from Pune or Mumbai.
“They are resisting the return. We are in discussion with them,” said Ram.
When asked about this, Parbhani District Collector Deepak Muglikar said at present the district has just one COVID-19 positive patient and the administration was aspiring to keep it that way.
“We are in orange zone now and are striving to return to green zone status. We can’t go for blanket acceptance of all migrants who want to return to Parbhani, especially from Pune and Mumbai, which have become hotspots of COVID-19. It’s not only administration, local residents too do not want anyone from outside to enter Parbhani district at this stage,” said Muglikar. He cited the example of a 19-year-old youth, who travelled from Pune to Parbhani on his bike.
“After the boy tested positive, we had to test 41 persons with whom he had come in contact with during his illegal drive from Pune. Another woman who came from Aurangabad and tested positive in Selu made us test and isolate 69 persons. We can’t open our boundaries for incoming persons as it would affect our efforts to become a ‘zero patient’ district,” said Muglikar.