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Mass movement catches authorities off guard

March 29, 2020 05:34 AM


Mass movement catches authorities off guard
Abhishek Dey and Sweta Goswami

New Delhi : A gathering of tens of thousands of migrant workers from across the city, walking towards Anand Vihar bus terminal to cross into Uttar Pradesh, took officials on the ground by surprise by Saturday. Till late evening, there was no relent in the sea of people marching towards the border.

On the roads, some workers tried to stop some government buses headed towards the Delhi-UP border at Anand Vihar. The bus drivers, however, folded their hands, apologised and drove away. There was no space remaining inside the bus. Unable to board a bus, thousands of women and children continued to walk towards the border.

On the road outside the bus terminal, the exodus of migrant workers seemed to have taken the government officials by surprise as any signs of management was limited to police and the civil defence personnel allowing the workers to board the buses in small batches and doctors screening people with thermal scanners. “I walked 10 kilometres to reach Anand Vihar. If I don’t find a bus here, I’ll walk to my home in Kanpur,” said Rahul Ranjan, a plumber, echoing the sentiment of many others.

To help people reach the bus terminals and city borders, the Delhi government had pressed 570 buses into service, even as deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia urged migrants to “adhere to the lockdown for their own safety.” The Delhi Police deployed dozens of police personnel at Anand Vihar and increased the deployment of personnel on the ground as the crowds surged, said MS Randhawa, the spokesperson of the city’s police force.

“At every check post we tried to persuade people to stay back in Delhi, assuring them of food and medical attention,” he said.

Those in queue said social and physical distancing could wait. They continued to push each other on a two-kilometre-long queue to be among the lucky ones to find and board a bus. “Our worry is not the coronavirus. We are more worried about getting stranded in Delhi. We will think about the virus after reaching home,” Manu Yadav, 21, said.

The Delhi government said that they were unable to provide buses to drop the workers home because their buses run on CNG. “All our buses are CNG-based and we could not provide the Delhi Transport Corporation buses or cluster buses to drop migrants to cities in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan,and Haryana, among other states, because of lack of CNG stations these. The buses would run out of fuel,” said a senior official in Delhi transport department.

Another official said, “Friday night, a huge number of workers started moving towards the Kaushambi bus terminal (near Anand Vihar) after learning that around 1,000 buses are being deployed by the Uttar Pradesh government there. On getting this information, the Delhi government started sending its DTC buses to pick people up from the road and ferrying them to the Kaushambi bus terminal. The terminal, like the Anand Vihar terminal, was completely shut from all sides and people started gathering in large numbers on the main road.”

On Friday, union home secretary Ajay Bhalla, wrote to all chief secretaries of states about migrant workers leaving for their homes and asked them to stop the exodus by providing them facilities. “Saturday morning, while Uttar Pradesh provided its buses, the Delhi government started offering bus service to migrant workers from its Ghazipur depot to Hapur in Uttar Pradesh. Those who wanted to be dropped at the UP border for taking the state-operated buses were allowed to deboard,” said a senior official in the Delhi government

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