The exodus of migrant workers from Mumbai had began in earnest on Monday, a day before Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a statewide curfew for 15 days till May 1.
On Tuesday night, soon after Thackeray announced the curfew in an address to the state, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) was teeming with migrant workers. While many had anticipated a lockdown and managed to get confirmed tickets to their respective hometowns, several were seen trying to enter the station by buying general compartment tickets.
Though every day, Central Railway (CR) and Western Railway (WR) are increasing the number of trains to North Indian states, over 2,000 people continue to be on the waiting list till Tuesday night. Several hundred migrant workers, having reserved train tickets, were seen waiting at CSMT for long distance trains late Tuesday. Most of them were trying to return home fearing a repeat of last year’s experience.
Pradeep Kumar Yadav (36) from Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh said, “I was lucky to get a reserved ticket. I used to work in a furniture shop at Goregaon. The shop has shut down and the owner has asked us to go on leave. I had come to Mumbai just two months ago. I had gone home during the last lockdown.”
“I do not know what I will do to do survive. But what is happening is in a way good as it’s for our own good. Everyone is suffering due to the pandemic.”
Monu Gupta (23) from Gorakhpur in UP used to work in a diamond polishing unit. “They are saying my company will be shut for a week or two. But I do not believe them after my last year’s experience. I think the curfew may get extended for a month or two. So, I am heading back home and will come back when the curfew ends.”
Maharashtra State Security Corporation (MSSC) personnel, patrolling CSMT, were found asking migrants if they have reserved tickets, failing which they were asked to leave the premises.
Sumit Thakur, the WR CPRO, said: “Two trains are leaving from Bandra Terminus on Wednesday for North India. The combined waiting list for these two trains is around 1,000. Looking at the waiting list, we have announced two trains on Thursday from Mumbai Central and Bandra Terminus. We are monitoring the daily waiting lists and announcing the required number of trains accordingly.”
“Ten trains are leaving for North Indian states on Wednesday. The waiting list is of around 1,000 to 1,500 people for these trains. We are running additional trains based on the waiting lists,” said Shivaji Sutar, chief PRO of CR.
While many migrants are also leaving the state by road, most are forced to wait for reserved train tickets worth Rs 1,500, as a bus ride costing Rs 5,000 will burn a hole in their pockets.
Harsh Kotak, general secretary of Mumbai Bus Malak Sanghatna, said: “Migrants are leaving but on a much smaller scale than last year. In the last 10 days, 100-odd buses have left for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
During last year’s lockdown, 1,000-odd buses had gone to these states.”
“Another reason could be that buses were exempted from taxes last year, so the cost of tickets for UP and Bihar was around Rs 3,000. Now, the tickets cost around Rs 5,000. Also, panchayat elections are due in these states,” added Kotak, who is also a member of BOCI (Bus & Car Operators Confederation of India).
Earlier in the day, before the curfew was announced, Bal Malkit Singh, chairman of core committee, All India Motor Transport Congress, had said: “We have 90 lakh truckers in our association, including 14 lakh in Maharashtra. Almost all drivers, helpers and loading-unloading staff among others are migrant workers. Due to the surge in Covid-19 cases, migration has began but not at a scale witnessed last year. But if there is a total lockdown, then migration will rise exponentially.”
Meanwhile, Pradeep Shetty, senior vice-president of Hotel & Restaurant Association of Western India (HRAWI), in a letter to the CM, had requested a slew of measures, including exemption of taxes and special vaccination drive, to help the sector’s sinking economy. “About 20 per cent of the staff has moved out and migrated due to the new restrictions while rest are waiting for govt’s decision on full lockdown. Once lockdown is announced, full migration out of the city and state is imminent,” he had written before the 15-day curfew was imposed.