In four parallel lines extending as far as one can see, thousands of migrant workers queued up at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station on Friday evening to board trains to their home states amid the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
Many of the workers were brought in buses from places like Dharavi and Kurla in Mumbai and will take “Shramik (worker) Special” trains that will take them to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states.
More than 5 lakh people in Maharashtra, who came to work at construction sites, factories and brick kilns across the state, have registered on helplines set up to let migrants return to their homes.
Hundreds queued up since the morning after registering days ago. “I registered on the 5th (May). I am going to Patna,” one of them said.
Many spoke of the hardships they faced over the past few weeks since the central government announced a sudden nationwide lockdown in March – two months after the coronavirus pandemic reached India.
“We will never come back to Mumbai. Faced a lot of problems here. The government did not help at all. Even if we have to survive with limited income in our village we will stay there,” a migrant worker told NDTV.
Some, however, say they have no choice but to return. “We will return when things get better. When the lockdown ends and when we can earn a living,” a man in his 40s told NDTV.
“Mumbai has given us jobs for years. Yes, the city could not do much during the pandemic but we will return when the city is what it is. When it works, there is no place like ‘Bambai’,” he added.
Lakhs of workers have fled large towns and cities after losing their jobs and left stranded without food or shelter due to the strict nationwide lockdown, which is aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Forced to walk for days, dozens of migrant workers have fallen sick or died on their way home, either from fatigue or in accidents, underscoring the extreme risks the poor have been exposed to.
Many others have stayed put, unable to return to their native villages as trains and buses have largely ground to a halt.
Facing public pressure, the government has organised special trains and buses to transport migrant labourers home. On Thursday it said more than 10 lakh people had reached their home states by train.
Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital that has been worst hit by COVID-19, has registered over 17,000 coronavirus cases including 655 deaths.
(With inputs from agencies)