Chaos at MP-Maharashtra border as migrants rush to return home

Raj Kishore, 42, has been working in a sweet shop in Mumbai for the past several years. He set out for a long journey to cover a distance of more than 1200 kilometres to his native place in Agra district in Uttar Pradesh when he was told about the Maharashtra government’s bus service to the state border with Madhya Pradesh.

On Thursday, Kishore along with hundreds of other workers was waiting for hours braving the scorching heat at 42 degree Celsius for his turn to board a bus at Bijasan, a check-post on the MP-Maharashtra border, in Barwani district, 313 kilometres south west of Bhopal.

According to the Madhya Pradesh government, buses are being provided free of cost at the Maharashtra border to take workers to Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh, 650 km away, after change of buses at Dewas and Guna. Similar arrangements have also been made at other border check-posts since Tuesday when the rush of migrant workers started, the officials said.

Although on paper the plan looks good, those reaching the border have to wait for hours to get a bus. But, the workers are willing to bear this pain for the assurance of reaching home.

Ram Verma, who had been waiting for a bus for at least six hours with his wife and two children, aged 5 and 7 years, at Bijasan, said, “I waited till now but getting stuck any more meant taking care of my family with no money in hand. At least, I can have something to eat in my village.” He lost his job as a salesman in Mumbai after the lockdown was announced.

Om Prakash Mishra from UP’s Jaunpur district, who fixes tiles in under construction houses in Mumbai, reached Chhindwara, on Thursday morning, in a truck by paying Rs 3,000. “With no job for two months I had run out of money. I requested my family to send money to me for the travel expenses,” he said.

A government official in Barwani, who was not willing to be named, said he has never seen such a rush of migrant workers there and there was total chaos at the border check posts.

“More than 20,000 to 25,000 workers are coming daily for several destinations in MP, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. We have arranged for about 120 buses. Seeing the rush, we need 200 more buses,” he said.

The official said the workers jostle with each other and are even occupying bus floors and roofs. “Managing them is becoming very difficult. Many of them are very aggressive. We are not using force as it could lead to a law and order situation,” he said.

As there are not enough buses, he said, they were trying to arrange trucks, tempos and trolleys for workers to return home. “If we don’t provide them with transport, there can be a law and order situation,” he said. Area’s sub-divisional magistrate Ghyanshyam Dhangar accepted there was shortage of buses as they cannot accommodate more than 40 workers in a bus to maintain social distancing norms.

Police outpost in-charge at Bijasan, Kavita Kanesh said, “The labourers are desperate to go home. We give them food and water but what gives them the biggest joy is a seat in any bus or any vehicle.”

District collector, Barwani district Amit Tomar said, “As per the announcement of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan we are providing facilities like food, water, shelter to those labourers who are coming in their own vehicles or through other conveyances and providing facility of buses to others who are entering Madhya Pradesh walking from Maharashtra’s border. All the facilities are free. Medical examination of the labourers is also being conducted.”

(With inputs from Sachin Pandey in Chhindwara and Mayank Bhargva in Betul).

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