After waiting for 14 hours, hundreds of migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh boarded buses from Sonipat but the promised ride home never did happen and they were dropped off at a shelter home in the Haryana town itself.
Kuldeep Kumar was one of those who got on to a Haryana Roadways Transport Corporation bus from Kundli Industrial area on the Delhi-Haryana border at 7.30 p.m. on Monday, happy the daylong wait had finally ended and he and his family would be home the next morning.
Instead, much to their shock and disappointment -- the bus stopped at Sonipat's Shambhu Dayal College, a makeshift shelter home, just a few kilometres away. And that's where the 22-year-old, his wife Aarti and his 10-month-old daughter Divyanshi were on Tuesday.
"We have no idea what is happening. I thought I will be home by now. Nobody is telling us how long we have to be here," Kuldeep told PTI over the phone.
There are almost 600 others with Kuldeep, locked within the confines of the temporary shelter home at the college and other 'homes' nearby.
Officials handling the massive rush of migrants returning home on Monday said they were left with no option.
"Some buses did leave for Uttar Pradesh. The Uttar Pradesh government had permitted the entry of only a certain number of buses. But more people reached than what had been permitted, so people (migrant labourers) were kept in a shelter home," explained Ashutosh Rajan, sub-divisional magistrate, Sonipat.
An increasingly frantic Kuldeep, who lost his job as a loader at the Kundli Industrial Estate, said he can't go back to his rented accommodation in Sersa village nearby because his landlord had ordered him not to return, fearing he would bring with him the coronavirus infection.
"The village headman had announced that the government had made arrangements for migrant labourers to go back to their home state Uttar Pradesh. And Kuldeep took them at their word.
So, on Sunday, he settled his dues with his landlord. And at the crack of dawn on Monday, around 5 am, left Sersa village for the Kundli Industrial Area a short distance away with his wife and baby.
There were hundreds of others like him. It was a long wait in the scorching heat. When he finally boarded the bus at 7.30, they were assured they will be taken to Rae Bareli.
His woes have only aggravated since then.
He said his family have been allocated a room in the college along with another family. There are no facilities and no arrangements for infants and children, not even milk for his daughter.
"The temperature is soaring and we have to open the windows. But that brings in hot air. A small fan for one room with two families does not serve the purpose and my daughter keeps crying," he said.
Several others in the home said they face the same predicament.
"His friend and colleague Ajay Kumar, also stranded in the shelter home, complained of bad quality food.
"We are being served tasteless' khichdi'. If we can't eat it, how can the children have it," said Ajay, who is with his wife Vimlesh and seven-month old son Sushil.
Like Kuldeep, Ajay has also been jobless since the lockdown and is desperate to return to his village in Rae Bareli.
Sandeep Kumar Mishra (39), one of the migrant workers at the shelter home, said they had no clue that they will be brought to the shelter home.
Officials at the shelter home, too, don't have any idea on when they will be allowed to go back, he said.
"They have locked the shelter home. There is no way out and officials here do not have any answer," he alleged.
Sanjay G, the CEO of the Zilla Parishad, Sonipat, who is coordinating the operation to send migrant labourers back to their home states, said only 30 buses were to go to Uttar Pradesh and each bus was to carry only 30 people.
He said only those migrant workers who had registered on the state portal were to be ferried.
Accordingly, calls were made to them, but those who had not registered also turned up.
"As per the plan, only 30 buses carrying 900 people were to go to Uttar Pradesh. I am not aware who gave the permission to send buses other than those decided upon. I have raised the issue with the Haryana Roadways State Transport," Sanjay said.
He added that nearly 600-700 migrant workers and their family members have been sent to different shelter homes.