Thousands At Delhi Bus Station Amid COVID-19 Risk, Wait For Ride Home
Amid the chaos, fear and uncertainty spreading across the country because of the COVID-19 outbreak, a distressing narrative emerged from Delhi on Saturday, when thousands of migrant workers left without jobs, shelter or money after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 21-day nationwide lockdown, crowded into bus terminals around the national capital trying desperately to return to hometowns and villages across the border in Uttar Pradesh.
The Centre’s “total lockdown”, meant to halt the spread of a highly infectious novel coronavirus that transmits rapidly in crowded spaces, had suspended all interstate bus and railway services, leaving migrants and their young families no option but to walk hundreds of kilometres on foot.
As harrowing stories of men, women and infants undertaking the punishing trek emerged over the past few days, the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi governments responded Saturday by arranging buses to ferry the people home; the UP government said it had organised 1,000 buses and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said 200 DTC buses would also be pressed into service.
The centre has denied a lack of planning on its behalf had led to this crisis, saying India’s response the COVID-19 outbreak was “pre-emptive, pro-active and graded”.
Home Minister Amit Shah said the Centre was committed to supporting migrant workers and that state governments had been urged to utilise their respective disaster response funds for relief measures and set up relief camps along highways and ensure the mass of migrants did not cross borders.
However, he cautioned governments to build these camps keeping social distancing in mind to avoid the virus spreading. Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy, Manish Sisodia, made the same plea, pointing out that the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi had promised lunch and dinner for four lakh people.
“This (the lockdown) is the only way to control the spread of the virus,” Mr Kejriwal said, echoing comments made by Prime Minister Modi.