Fourteen migrant labourers travelling over 1,200 km from Nashik to Lucknow in the belly of a cement concrete mixer were caught after police flagged down the vehicle in rural Indore on Saturday morning.
All 14 men, along with two drivers and two cleaners of the vehicle, were taken to a nearby resort after screening.
None of the occupants of the vehicle have shown symptoms of novel coronavirus infection, SDM Ravish Shrivastava said.
The 18 men had begun their journey on Friday, and appeared to have travelled through the night, possibly with stops on the way, during which the labourers likely came out of the mixer.
Police stopped the vehicle around 11 am in the Sanver area of Indore district after personnel on duty got suspicious about a concrete mixer vehicle moving on the road at a time when all construction has stopped due to the lockdown.
“We allow trucks and other large vehicles to pass because they carry essential supplies. I initially let this vehicle through as well – but then it struck me that construction activities have stopped due to the lockdown,” Traffic Subedar Amit Yadav said.
Yadav said the vehicle was stopped, and police started to question the four men seated in the driver’s cabin. As they were speaking to the driver, the policemen heard voices coming from inside the giant vehicle, and asked the crew to open its belly.
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A video that quickly went viral showed worker after worker emerging from inside the mixer, clutching bags and small bundles of their belongings to their chests.
“It appeared inhuman to travel in this way in 40-degree plus heat, but the migrant workers, aged between 22 and 30 years, did not seem to mind,” Yadav said.
Police said the workers and the vehicle’s crew initially claimed they had started their journey near Indore, but later admitted that some of them had started from Nashik, and picked up the others who were walking along the highway.
It was not immediately clear how much the migrant labourers had paid the vehicle’s crew for the ride to Lucknow.
Yadav said the workers and the crew had claimed that the ride was free, but he had his doubts.
However, the police, who have seen hundreds of migrants crossing the Maharashtra and Gujarat borders into Madhya Pradesh on foot over the last several weeks, were not harsh on the men.
Soon after the men were caught, DSP (Traffic) Umakant Chaudhary told The Indian Express that the vehicle would be taken to the Sanver police station in whose jurisdiction the incident had occurred, while the workers were taken to a garden resort in the vicinity.
A spokesman at the Sanver police station said the senior driver of the vehicle, Sahib Zakir Hussain, 35, has been booked under IPC Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), because Section 144 CrPC is in force in the district.
The vehicle, which is registered in Maharashtra, will remain parked on the premises of Sanver police station, and will be handed over to its owner only after the case is disposed of in court once the lockdown has been lifted, officials said.
SDM Shrivastava said he had got in touch with senior officials in the administration, and that the government would facilitate the workers’ journey to their homes.
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