As Delhi's lockdown begins, thousands of migrant workers head home
In what reminds of the grim scenes from 2020, thousands of migrant workers rushed to bus terminals and railway stations of Delhi to undertake journeys toward their homes, merely hours after Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced a week-long lockdown. The migrants decided to leave the National Capital despite Kejriwal's assurances that his government would not let them suffer. Here are more details.
In March last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a 21-day lockdown to handle the coronavirus crisis, lakhs of migrants living in bigger cities were caught unprepared. As all modes of transport were suspended, they had started walking toward their homes, with some dying on the way. It was only in May that the Centre started running special trains for them.
Months after they reached their homes, migrant workers had returned to cities, looking for employment. But they were hit with another lockdown. Yesterday, Kejriwal had said it wasn't an easy decision to impose a lockdown, as it hurts the poor the most. He had claimed that healthcare infrastructure would be expanded during the lockdown period to handle the surging coronavirus numbers.
"I would like to appeal to them (migrants), with folded hands, this is a short lockdown of six days. Please do not leave Delhi. You would lose a lot of time, money, and energy in traveling. Stay in Delhi," he had said.
However, his assurances had little effect on migrants. A migrant worker named Mohammad Mumtaz Ansari, who hails from Jharkhand, said, "In Delhi last year, we struggled to find food...getting a kg of flour here, some other food there. We had trouble even getting donated food. The entire time we stayed here, we had to ask for money from home. (sic)"
Another worker, Mordhwaj from Uttar Pradesh, told The Indian Express, "We are heading back because we fear that like last year, people might get stuck." One Anil Prasad, who runs a food stall in Noida, said he went to his home in Jharkhand in March and had returned in December. "Customers had started returning by then. But ever since cases began to rise, people have again stopped coming," he said.
Notably, at the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal, migrant workers were surprised to learn of the ticket rates. "We are daily wagers, the Chief Minister should have given us some time before announcing the lockdown. It takes us Rs. 200 to reach home, but they are charging Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 now, how will we go home?" one worker asked, reports Business Standard.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Delhi logged its highest single-day fatality count as 240 more people succumbed to coronavirus-linked complications. The National Capital added 23,686 fresh cases to its caseload. The positivity rate now stands at 26.12%. Dr. Jugal Kishore, HoD community medicine at the Safdarjung Hospital, said the number of deaths could be higher in the ongoing wave as the health system is being overburdened.