“Kahaan tak jaaoge? Ranchi chhod do hame. Raipur ya Bilaspur bhi chalega,” Ramdev Yadav (26) asks the drivers of trucks, tempos, and cars waiting on the highway at the border of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.
Also at the border in Baghnadigaon village in Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon district some 140 km from the capital Raipur, stand about 50 buses at a temporary station, mobilised by the state government to ferry migrant workers coming into the state to their villages. There aren’t enough buses for the number of migrants — and none are headed to where Yadav wants to go.
The temporary bus station is packed with people, all tired and desperate to get home. There are arguments, and frequent angry outbursts. The authorities claim to have facilitated the journey home of thousands over the past few days — several of those at the bus station, however, complain of having been made to wait for hours before being put into a bus, only to be taken off and put into another.
The border district has been facing a massive load of migrants, and the system is clearly overwhelmed by the volumes. The state government has announced it would bring back nearly 3 lakh migrants, and promised them slippers, should they want them, along with other basic facilities. The government is also helping migrants from other states who are passing through the state, but the logistics are challenging, Rajnandgaon Collector J P Maurya said.
“States like Jharkhand and Bihar don’t want to take their migrants back. They ask us to quarantine them first. I have quarantined more than 26,000 people in my state and more are returning. It is harassment of the machinery. So, we can only drop migrants up to our borders,” he said. “We are trying to send our intra-district public too. We have over 200 buses, and 100 are going all over Chhattisgarh.”
Yadav, his eyes bloodshot above the mask covering his face, looked for some water to drink on Monday afternoon. “We were given packets of bread, but nothing more,” he says. “There are earthen pots at the counters, and the police handed out a few pouches of water when we reached in the morning. But I have nothing to store water in.”
He belongs to Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, Yadav said. He said he worked in a hotel near Karla cave, a Buddhist site 60 km from Pune. “We hitch-hiked until Pune, from where we boarded state transport buses on Sunday morning. No driver here is going to Hazaribagh; so I am trying to get to Ranchi instead.” Hazaribagh is about 130 km from the Jharkhand capital.
The Maharashtra state transport corporation buses have been coming until Baghnadigaon, named for the Bagh river that flows from Madhya Pradesh to Chhattisgarh, dropping off thousands of migrants near a petrol pump 500 metres from the local police station.
Anant Gadgil, a bus driver from Pune, said he has already driven two rounds on the route. “After spending three days on the road, I get one day off, and then I start again,” he said.
Apart from the red Maharashtra buses, people have been coming by other vehicles as well. “Several people either pool in resources and book a vehicle, take lifts, or are helped by their employers with tickets from Maharashtra and Gujarat. We give them some supplies, register the group, and send them ahead,” a police constable on duty at the police help centre, said.
The constables at the post work shifts of eight hours each daily, maintaining order among the waiting migrants, and flagging down vehicles that might give them lifts. “We have been doing this for over a month now. Earlier, people came walking. We gave them food and helped them hitch a ride. Seeing policemen, many vehicles stop,” the constable, who requested anonymity, said.
As the numbers of migrants kept increasing, local authorities contacted Yumetta Foundation, one of the social organisations working in the area. Police reached out to one of its members, Dr Priyadarsh, who works at the Shaheed Hospital in Rajnandgaon. On Monday, Dr Priyadarsh and his friends arranged for six buses after raising Rs 1.5 lakh, to ferry people to Jharkhand and Odisha.
But some like Ramdev Yadav still needed help. He ultimately managed to climb on to a trailer truck carrying sugar to Bilaspur along with 15 others, including a woman, Madhuri, and her small boy.The driver, Dharamraj Vishwakarma, said: “I am not going to charge them any money, but if someone wishes to pay for my food, why will I say no?”
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