Jaipur: The nationwide lockdown is being openly defied in the Rajasthan capital, with thousands of migrant workers mostly from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, and even from within the state, hitting the roads to return home.
On Saturday evening, nearly 30,000-40,000 migrant labourers gathered at the city’s most prominent bus stands at Sindhi Camp and Transport Nagar. The exodus was partially fuelled by reports that the state government was arranging buses to ferry the migrants, but police dismissed the claim as a rumour.
However, the massive crowds on the roads forced the government to take a U-turn from its earlier stance that people stay put, and arrange buses for the migrants. Rajasthan transport minister Pratap Singh Khachariyawas said buses would be provided to local labourers looking to return to their home districts in Rajasthan. Meanwhile, those from other states will be dropped off at the border with other states.
“We have arranged 200 buses… another 800 buses are ready to be deployed,” Rajasthan State Roadways and Transport Corporation managing director Naveen Jain told ThePrint.
Jain said, by Sunday afternoon, 62 buses had dropped labourers to the border or their home districts. He added that private buses would also be allowed to ply but only to drop migrant labourers.
While the administration did step in to arrange buses Saturday, the number of vehicles was not enough to accommodate the migrants gathered at the bus stands. Thousands of people who had walked 20 to 30 km to reach the bus stands spent the whole night on the road hoping to board the bus.
The national lockdown that kicked in at 12 midnight Wednesday bars all movement across borders and even within cities, unless for essential purchases like groceries or services like healthcare and media. Even train and bus services have been suspended.
Coronavirus had claimed 25 lives in India by Sunday.
The move has resulted in thousands of daily wagers and other labourers losing their jobs and employment opportunities, leaving many without accommodation and even food.
Speaking to ThePrint, many migrants said they were desperate to return home.
“We don’t want to go. But there is no alternative. We have been laid off by our owners… our landlord forced us to leave home,” a migrant worker from Supaul in Bihar said. “We went to police to seek help but were bluntly told to talk to Modiji.”
The allegations fly in the face of state and central government advisories urging employers to not fire their employees or cut their pay. In an advisory issued Friday, the home ministry asked states and union territories to provide temporary shelter, food, and medical aid to homeless people, including migrant workers. On Friday, the central government cracked down harder, and ordered all states and union territories to seal border, including between districts, to restrict the movement of people.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had also asked employers in the state to give employees paid leave, but there have been allegations that some workers have been sent packing with paltry payouts. Against the state government’s directives, some landlords have also evicted tenants from their homes.
Gehlot has asked every family to make extra food for two poor persons.