Migrants continue to walk as Maharashtra government drags its feet

Updated: May 06, 2020, 10:50 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav | Mumbai

Three days after the government started trains with much fanfare to repatriate migrants, facts on the ground paint a picture of official apathy, helplessness and a throbbing anger among those walking

Rajesh Pawar with his two-year-old daughter. He and his wife are walking to Gondia district. All pictures: Ranjeet Jadhav
Rajesh Pawar with his two-year-old daughter. He and his wife are walking to Gondia district. All pictures: Ranjeet Jadhav

Zyada se zyada kya hoga? Mar hi jaunga na chalte chalte? (What's the worse that could happen? I'll die, right?) These disturbing words of a physically challenged migrant walking home to UP from Thane sum up the mood of hundreds like him trudging home. With no clarity from the government, the migrants continue to risk their lives on highways.

Hundreds of the migrant workers continue to walk to Uttar Pradesh and even Nagpur. As it is difficult to walk in the scorching heat, most rest during the day and walk at nights on highways. They poured their hearts out to mid-day.

A majority of the migrants work as labourers on at under-construction sites in MMR. They said they were leaving Mumbai as they had no access to food and essential items at their workplaces. At least 1,000 men, women and children were seen walking along the Mumbai-Agra highway between the Thane-Kalyan junctions.

Most of the migrants will walk over 1,600 km to UP. Pic/Ranjeet Jadhav
Most of the migrants will walk over 1,600 km to UP. Pic/Ranjeet Jadhav

'Procedure not explained'
Some people expressed anger against the state and Central governments, alleging they were not taking the plight of migrants seriously, and this was happening because the authorities on the local level weren't cooperative. They alleged that local authorities were not explaining relevant procedures. Many have filled forms, taken medical certificates and got these and other papers stamped by the police to board the transport provided but say they are not being clearly told what is next.

Kisan Pawar who is heading back to his village near Nagpur with his wife, daughter and son, said they barely have any money left. "Staying in Thane with no job or money will be more burdening. So we started on the 800-km-long journey on foot," said Pawar. At night they rested at Kalyan phata for few hours. Most migrants have been resting or sleeping on the side of the highway.

Rajesh Pawar, 28, a resident of Gondia district in Maharashtra worked as a labourer at a construction site in Thane. Since work stopped and he has no money left, he and his wife have started walking with their two-year-old daughter. An emotional Rajesh said, "I pray that such difficult times don't befall anyone. No one really cares about the poor and that's why we have no other option but to walk. We don't even have money to buy tickets and food. We hope to reach our village because the safety of my daughter is very important."

'I would have died anyway'
A man with a deformed foot who did not wish to be named, will be walking over 1,600 km to reach his village in UP. "Aise bhi mar jaate kyon ki khaane ke liye kuch nahi hai. Us se behtar hai jahan tak chal saku wahan tak jaun, is umeed se ke ghar pohochunga. Jyada se jyada kya hoga? Mar hi jaunga na chalte chalte? (I would have died anyway because I wasn't getting any food. It's better that I walk as far as I can in the hope that I will reach home. What's the worst that could happen? I'll die, right?)," he said.

Suhel Ahmed and Irshad Khan who worked at a construction site in Thane, had approached local authorities to know about the procedure to go back home. But they claimed they weren't given clarity about when they would be allowed to go back, so they left for Uttar Pradesh on foot.

'No co-ordination'
Irshad Khan told mid-day, "We waited in Thane all this time because the government had told us it would make arrangements at the right time for migrants to go home. But there seems to be lack of coordination between the Centre and state. For the past two days, we ran from pillar to post getting medical certificates and filling forms but there was no clarity on what next. We have a few hundred rupees and before that too gets over, we want to reach home. God knows when we will reach."

The chairperson of an NGO says the government must instill confidence in migrants. Jalpesh Mehta, chairperson, Empower Foundation, said, "Walking on the highway for kilometres is a risky affair and may also see migrants die due to hunger or exertion and not because of COVID-19. We have worked with government authorities and police in Maharashtra and Gujarat to provide food to the migrants and the support on the ground from authorities has been excellent. The living conditions of the migrants and support from their employers is indeed very poor, but the need of the hour is instillation of confidence in the migrants by the government on the ground that they will be taken care of and there are planned exits — trains and buses to help them reach back home safely."

No. of people seen walking along Mumbai-Agra highway

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