Indian state arranges for thousands of migrant workers to be bused home after Delhi lockdown

Hundreds of migrant workers in New Delhi wait at a bus station to leave for their villages on Monday.
Hundreds of migrant workers in New Delhi wait at a bus station to leave for their villages on Monday. AP

The government of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh is arranging buses for migrant workers to return home from neighboring Delhi after the territory announced a week-long lockdown due to the surge in Covid-19 cases on Monday.

“We are making arrangements for 70,000 to 100,000 people to be taken back to their villages,” Siddharth Nath Singh, a Uttar Pradesh government minister told local news on Tuesday.

Singh added that the Delhi government had left them helpless, bringing back memories of similar incidents last year when thousands of migrant workers queued at Delhi’s bus terminals in a scramble to return home after India’s first lockdown.

After the city announced its latest lockdown, the Delhi chief minister appealed to migrant workers to stay.

“I am hopeful that this is a small lockdown and we won’t need to extend it, stay in Delhi … I want to assure you that the government will take care of you,” Arvind Kejriwal said Monday. 

Thousands of people have been seen heading to railway stations and bus stops in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, which have large migrant populations. 

The central government has denied claims that migrant workers are stranded at train stations and bus terminals.

Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said on Tuesday there were no train stations in the country “where migrant workers have come in large numbers or faced any difficulty.”

Goyal said “special trains have been operational” and that “there are many tickets available so anyone can book and return home.”

The special trains have been operational since June last year, when the country began opening up inter-state transport following several lockdown extensions.

When the nationwide lockdown was imposed in March last year, the country saw tens of thousands of migrants returning home by any means possible, even as inter-state travel was restricted and no transport was available.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment has reactivated 20 control rooms which had been set up in last April to address the grievances of migrant workers, a statement from the ministry on Tuesday said.

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