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'Exodus of autos and taxis will continue in phase four of lockdown'

Updated on: 13 May,2020 07:03 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Anurag Kamble, Samiullah Khan, Ranjeet Jadhav |

As the state machinery heaves and creaks in repatriating migrants amid red tape, truckers make hay, charging Rs 4,000 to take migrants to their destinations; auto drivers continue to drive their vehicles to their hometowns

'Exodus of autos and taxis will continue in phase four of lockdown'

Truck drivers are charging migrants thousands of rupees to take them home

In Khalilabad, UP, an exhausted yet smiling Ajay Prajapati, 35, gets up from the charpoy. After travelling 1,700 km in his rickshaw, Prajapati's back is sore and legs are swollen. But he is home. Prajapati's is one of the hundreds of families travelling home in autos and taxis in an unprecedented reverse migration. A thousand kilometres away, on the Mumbai-Nashik highway, migrants poured out of a packed truck taking them to MP and UP. One of the several travellers is Lalit Kumar, a native of Varanasi, who has paid R4,000 for a place on the truck.

My efforts bore fruit. I managed to bring my family home," Prajatapti told mid-day on Tuesday.

Ajay Prajapati with his wife, son and brother
Ajay Prajapati with his wife, son and brother

Over 3,000 autorickshaws and taxi drivers have crammed their families and belongings in the vehicles and left the city. Union leaders say this is bound to continue as a fourth extension of the lockdown in Mumbai and nearby regions looks inevitable.

Prajapati was living in Chinchvati, Nallasopara. After more than 50 days of unemployment, his patience ran out. "Six days ago, my wife, eight-year-old son and my brother set out for Khalilabad district in UP. No one knows how long the lockdown will last. Now, even if I die here, I will have no regrets," he said.

Lalit Kumar (in pink shirt) with his friends. They were working in Valsad, Gujarat, in textile mills. Pic/Ranjeet Jadhav
Lalit Kumar (in pink shirt) with his friends. They were working in Valsad, Gujarat, in textile mills. Pic/Ranjeet Jadhav

Prajapati spent R7,000 for the trip. "I don't know what I am going to do. We don't own land. I will have to work as farm labour or find a job. I have to save up again to return to Mumbai when things get better," he said.

Mahender Singh, who was residing in Palghar, journeyed for five days to reach Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh. "I started on May 7 with my wife, daughter-in-law and grandson in the auto. My son, Pawan, rode on a two-wheeler for 1,500 kilometres. We would rest during the day and travel at night," Mahendar said. "We saw thousands of migrants walking or driving back to their hometowns. It's a really terrible situation."

Mahendar and Pawan Singh
Mahendar and Pawan Singh's house in Ghazipur, UP

Mahendar spent over R10,000 on food and petrol. "I borrowed money from friends and also used savings from the bank. Usually, it is 'marriage season' in our hometown during this time. But due to Coronavirus, everything has stopped. We have some ancestral land. I am considering cultivating it for the upcoming season or work as farm labour," he said.

Eight in one autorickshaw
Baleshwar Yadav, 54, is going to his native Hazaribagh in Jharkhand with eight others — including two women and three children — crammed in one autorickshaw.

Pawan travelled 1,500 km on his two-wheeler
Pawan travelled 1,500 km on his two-wheeler

"I have been driving an autorickshaw in Mumbai for 12 years. But everything is closed now. I spent two months digging into my savings but that, too, has run out. I have no choice but to return to my village," Yadav said.

Asked about returning to Mumbai later, he said, "Whether it is six months or a year, I will have to return because I still have to pay instalments for the bank loan with which I bought this vehicle. Till the situation normalises in Mumbai, I will rely on agriculture and cattle rearing."

'Patience has run out'
AL Quadros, general secretary of Mumbai Taximens Union said, "More than 5,000 rickshaw and taxi drivers have left the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). For the past 50 days, their patience was being tested. Now they have neither money nor patience. Many taxi drivers are saying they will return once things get normal. If the government allows autos and taxis to ply with precautions, poor drivers will get some money to feed their families."

There are around 45,000 kaali-peeli cabs and five lakh autorickshaws in MMR.

Maharashtra police, which is taking action against public vehicles plying amid the lockdown, said, "During the first two phases of lockdown, we enforced the rules very strictly. But now people have lost patience. Yesterday, I stopped a family travelling in a taxi. The driver literally fell on my feet requesting not to stop him. People don't want to spend a single day in the city, they want to go home. We cops are human too. Till what extent can we stop migrants?" said a senior police officer.
An auto driver from Vakola left Mumbai last week to reach Uttar Pradesh yesterday. "We carried all documents with us and a medical certificate. We were a group of 50 autos. We are not stopped at any checkpoints. In fact some cops were generous and offered food and water. We don't think the lockdown will end before June so we decided to drive back," he said.

According to union leaders, taxis and autos are leaving the city in groups of 20 to 50, or more, and are heading to UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Jharkhand. Some taxis are going to Karnataka. RTO officials said auto and taxi permit holders are allowed to travel to native places by getting online temporary permits, which are valid for a few months.

Approx no. of days it is taking for families to reach home

Rs 10k
Approx. money spent by families on petrol and food during the trip

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