COVID-19: 100 buses pick up migrants on Nashik highway; drivers making 700 km with little food, water

Updated: May 20, 2020, 08:10 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav, Ashish Rane | Mumbai

While the labourers and their families are a relieved lot, drivers say they are working non-stop for 700 km with little food or water

Migrants wait to board an ST bus at Bhiwandi phata on the Mumbai-Nashik highway. Pics/Ashish Rane
Migrants wait to board an ST bus at Bhiwandi phata on the Mumbai-Nashik highway. Pics/Ashish Rane

With thousands of people travelling to the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border from Thane and Kalyan phata, ST (state transport) buses have become a lifeline on the highways. However, it has come to light that the drivers, who have to drive 700 km non-stop, have not been provided with adequate food by the authorities and have to fend for themselves.

During a visit to the Mumbai Nashik highway on Monday, mid-day found over 100 MSRTC (Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation) buses that had arrived from various ST depots across Maharashtra to ferry migrant workers.

Migrants gather at various ST bus stops on the Mumbai-Nashik highway to board ST buses
Migrants gather at various ST bus stops on the Mumbai-Nashik highway to board ST buses

Migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Orissa, etc. gather at Thane Ghodbunder junction, Kalyan phata and the Bhiwandi phata on the highway to board the ST buses which ferry them free of cost. While many NGOs and social workers are providing food and water to the migrants, MSRTC drivers are left in the lurch.

A bus driver from Marathwada said, "We're doing our duty because we can imagine the pain of these migrants. However, we have only a small expectation that we be given enough food and water for the journeys."

Migrants gather at various ST bus stops on the Mumbai-Nashik highway to board ST buses

The drivers do not have the option to buy food as most highway dhabas are closed. At some depots, they get a pack of biscuits and a bottle of water. If some NGO offers food, they take it. Other than these, there are no food sources. Some drivers are operating without masks, gloves and sanitisers.

Another MSRTC driver said, "In some buses, there are two drivers while in others, only one driver undertakes the entire one-way journey of 700 km to the Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh border, without a single halt. Many drivers do not know the route as it is a new one for them."

 With non-stop trips amid a lockdown, ST drivers say they need food from the govt
With non-stop trips amid a lockdown, ST drivers say they need food from the govt

mid-day noticed an ACP rank police officer and a senior police inspector at Kalyan phata dividing migrants into groups of 22 and assigning them to ST buses. The whole exercise was carried out without chaos.

Migrant workers though were happy about the government service. "With no income for two months, I have very little money left. Returning to my native place in West Bengal is my only option. We are thankful to Maharashtra government for arranging buses for us," said Sonu Sheikh who used to work as carpenter in Thane.

"We are from Raipur, Chattisgarh. Along with all our belongings, I also have to carry my two-month-old baby. We have gathered everything, we are not planning to return," said another migrant, Usha Patel.

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