The Centre on Monday decided to run 100 special trains daily for migrants during the coronavirus lockdown and asked the states to ensure that they avail the facility, as scenes of stranded people trekking or cycling for hundreds of kilometres, or cramming into trucks, autos and other vehicles for an arduous journey home play out day after day across the country.
The Maharashtra government too announced launch of free bus services up to the borders of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat for migrant labourers, days after 16 workers, who were walking back home to MP were mowed down by a goods train in Aurangabad after they fell asleep on railway tracks.
Official said on Monday that the Railways will now run 100 'Shramik Special' trains daily, adding that 468 such trains have been operated since May 1 ferrying home over five lakh migrants stranded in various parts of the country.
The Railways also decided to carry around 1,700 passengers on board these trains instead of the current 1,200 and the railway zones have also been asked to provide three stops in the destination state other than the terminating station, at the request of the state governments.
The central government has noted with great concern that migrant workers continue to walk on roads and railway tracks, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla said in a letter to chief secretaries of all states and union territories and asked them to ensure that such people are provided shelter and food till such time they are facilitated to board the special trains or buses to their native places.
The opposition has been critical of the Centre's handling of the situation, accusing it of not doing enough to ease the hard ships of the migrant workers, many of whom have lost their jobs during the lockdown which started on March 25.
These people have been desperate to reach their native places, but with public transport suspended and movement restricted, many have resorted to walking or using whatever private vehicles are available, facing immense hardships and even risking their lives. Accidents involving migrants on the move are being reported daily from various states.
Returning home to Uttar Pradesh from Telangana, two migrant labourers were killed and seven others injured after a truck they had hitched a ride on to take a break from walking overturned in Gorakhpur district in UP on Monday, police said.
According to reports, all nine labourers are residents of Maharajganj district. They were returning from Hyderabad on foot and took a lift in the truck, which was transporting sand, in Kanpur.
In another incident, a migrant worker cycling back to his native place in Bihar from Delhi died after being run over by a car in Lucknow on Saturday, they said.
At least six migrant labourers, who were returning to UP from Hyderabad, were killed and 14 others injured when a truck in which they were travelling overturned in Madhya Pradesh's Narsinghpur district on Saturday night.
Since the Shramik Special train service started, Gujarat has remained one of the top originating stations followed by Kerala. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh top the list of receiving states. Yet many of the migrant labourers have not been able to avail the facility.
There have also been apprehensions about a shortage of labour, difficulties in rehabilitating returnees and fear of rise in COVID-19 cases due to the movement of migrants.
Scores of labourers working at the Nirma Limited's detergent plant in Gujarat's Bhavnagar district allegedly went on a rampage and vandalised a staff bus in the early hours of Monday after a Shramik Special train to Uttar Pradesh was cancelled, police said.
The incident took place at the labourers' colony near Nirma plant in Kala Talav area after the workers got angry thinking the company was not letting them go to their native place during the lockdown, "which was not true", Superintendent of Police Jaipalsinh Rathore said.
An FIR has been lodged against some workers for rioting, he added.
While about 1.76 lakh or 70 per cent of the 2.56 lakh migrants who left Gujarat have travelled to Uttar Pradesh, others set out on their journey to Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhatisgarh, a Gujarat government official said.
Among various cities in Gujarat, the largest number of migrant workers have left for their home states on trains from the textile hub Surat, followed by Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot and other districts, the official said.
Thousands of migrant workers are also moving out of the COVID-19 hotbed of Mumbai, many of them in taxis and autorickshaws.
Union sources in Mumbai pegged the number of 'kaali peeli' taxis (traditional black & while taxis) and autos leaving the metropolis at around 1,000 and 5,000 respectively.
The National Highway Number 3, also called Mumbai-Agra Road that touches Indore in Madhya Pradesh through a bypass road, is seeing a steady stream of autorickshaws from the country's commercial capital as well as people on bicycles hoping to pedal their way as far as Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh or Kalahandi in Odisha.
Among them is Baleshwar Yadav (54), who is going to his native village in Jharkhand's Hazaribagh, with eight people, including two women and three children, cramming into his three-wheeler.
"I have been driving an autorickshaw in Mumbai for the past 12 years. But everything is closed there now. I spent two months digging into my savings but that, too, has run out. I have no choice but to return to my village," he told PTI on Monday.
Indore Deputy Superintendent of Police (Traffic) Umakant Chaudhary said autorickshaws were being allowed to pass only after those inside are subjected to medical screening when they enter the border of Madhya Pradesh.
Chaudhary said CNG-fitted autorickshaws were seen in long queues at fuel pumps on the Indore Bypass road since the number of pumps selling CNG on this route is less.
A cyclist on the Mumbai-Agra highway said he saw migrants travelling in trucks, auto rickshaws and bikes on way to their native places in central and north India.
A L Quadros of the Mumbai Taximens Union said over 1,000 black and yellow taxis and 5,000 auto rickshaws from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region have left the region.
There are around 45,000 black and yellow cabs and around 5 lakh autorickshaws in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, he said.
Sujit Singh, an auto driver from Mumbai's Vakola area, said he left for Uttar Pradesh in a group of about 50 autorickshaws from their area on Saturday, and on Monday morning reached Madhya Pradesh, travelling via Nashik.
With only one good leg, Ramjeevan Nishad, 27, has already cycled over 80 km since he left Nallasopara, a suburb of Mumbai, to reach Vasind. He is part of a group of dozen whose destination is Gorakhpur, 1,600 km away.
At least 17 people were injured in an accident involving four vehicles, including one carrying migrant labourers, on the highway in Maharashtra's Nashik district on Monday morning, police said.
A state official said that the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) buses will conduct more than 300 trips to the borders of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh for migrants in the next two days, as they will run half of their normal capacity to maintain social distancing among passengers.
"The state government has observed that migrant labourers are in no mood to stay back despite several appeals made by the state government. After the death of 16 migrant labourers in Aurangabad, the government state decided to run special buses for migrant labourers," he said.
In Uttar Pradesh, an official said that over two lakh workers stuck in other states due to the coronavirus lockdown have been brought back in the special trains till now while over one lakh workers have returned through other modes of transportation in the past four days.