With their livelihoods coming to a halt after imposition of the countrywide lockdown, thousands of daily wage workers and labourers thronged the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border on Saturday in the hope of reaching their homes in far-flung areas, notwithstanding the threat of spread of the coronavirus disease.
Hordes of people, including women and children, with their bags on their heads and backs many also wearing protective masks - waited in long queues to board buses at the Anand Vihar Interstate Bus Terminal here.
Earlier in the day, the Uttar Pradesh government announced that it has arranged 1,000 buses to ferry migrant labourers stranded in the border districts owing to a countywide lockdown.
The Delhi government also announced that 100 buses have been deployed to help those trying to reach on foot their homes in other states, many of them hundreds of kilometres away.
Although the police had made people stand in three queues, the serpentine lines didn't seem to end as there was a steady flow of migrant workers who wanted to go back to their towns and villages citing lack of employment due to the lockdown.
Many struggled to board the buses packed to the hilt. The police also made people de-board overcrowded buses to avoid spread of the infection.
Good Samaritans distributed food to those preparing for their journeys. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nation-wide lockdown from March 25 following which all transport services -- road, rail and air -- were suspended.
Daily wage workers were among the worst hit by the lockdown and thousands started heading back home in different states. In the absence of availability of transportation, a large number of them undertook their long journeys on foot.
But with the UP and Delhi governments arranging buses to ferry those stranded on the state borders, many decided to take a chance, thereby crowding the Delhi borders.
Jwatam Kumar (24), who works in a faucet factory, said his unit has been shut due to the lockdown. He is paid Rs 8,000 a month on a fortnightly basis. With no means of making a living and paying for food and accommodation, he wanted to go back home in Aligarh.
"I had made up my mind to walk back, but now I heard through news channels that Uttar Pradesh government has made provision of taking people to their homes. So, I will take the bus," said Kumar, who was headed to Anand Vihar ISBT.
Sachin Kanojia (29), who took a shared auto-rickshaw from Rohtak to Delhi that charged Rs 500 per seat, said the factory he worked in was closed due to the lockdown. He earns Rs 10-12,000 per month but now with no income for the next three weeks, he was heading back home.
"I will get a bus from Anand Vihar," said Kanojia, who was headed to Lucknow.
Like Kanojia and Kumar, Omkar Maurya too was headed home to Amethi. Maurya, who works as a daily wage worker putting up tents for marriage ceremonies, said with no money in his pocket it was better for him to go back home.
"Now that there are bus services, it is good that I go back home till the situation becomes normal," Maurya said.