NOIDA/GHAZIABAD: Soon after the Delhi government announced a curfew for one week, thousands of people gathered at Ghaziabad’s Kaushambi bus depot to go to their hometowns.
Officials said more than one lakh migrants were at the terminus on Monday. In Noida, hundreds assembled near Kalindi Kunj, Chilla and DND borders to look for vehicles, in scenes reminiscent of last year when millions left the cities, many on foot.
At Kaushambi, people had gathered from various parts of Delhi, Ghaziabad, Gurugram and Faridabad and most of them said they feared the lockdown might be extended and like last year, they will have a difficult time reaching home.
The administration did not make specific arrangements and officials were caught off guard with so many people crowding the bus stand. While many got on tractor trolleys, several others set out on foot. Social distancing norms were hardly followed and there was no arrangement for screening. “Four people jostled for space in seats meant for two. Most buses were packed and several people climbed to the roof of the vehicles. Some even got into buses through windows. Most were without masks,” an official said.
A senior official at the bus depot said that initially they tried to control the crowd. “We tried telling people to maintain distance but right after noon, there was a huge rush and we could not manage after that. We asked the local police for help, but a small team came after about two hours and nothing much could be done,” he added. Sushil Upadhyay, who works in the marketing division of a private bank in Delhi, said he feared the lockdown would be extended. “This time, I cannot take a chance. Last year, the government did not give us time to go back,” said the youth who was travelling to Gorakhpur.
Faridabad resident Vipin Pandey said he wanted to go back home to Bhagalpur in Bihar. “Last year, I walked up to Lucknow. After that, the Uttar Pradesh government started a bus service for people like us and I got dropped at the UP-Bihar border. It took me almost 10 days to reach home. It was the longest and most difficult journey for me,” Pandey, who works at a restaurant in Faridabad, said. AK Singh, regional manager, Kaushambi bus depot, said more than 60,000 people have taken 966 buses so far from the terminus. “We have asked the authorities to send 1,000 more buses. District magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey is also talking to officials in Lucknow to arrange for buses. More people might turn up looking for buses,” he said. “We are charging people according to the UP Roadways rates. People are taking buses to go to Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Badaun, Mainpuri, Kasganj and other places. We are trying to arrange for buses as per the demand,” Singh said, adding that they are trying to sanitise all vehicles and asking people to wear masks before they take buses.
In Noida, Munesh, a labourer who works in Delhi’s Meethapur, said he was going to his village in Bulandshahr with his friend Satish. “I have been staying in Delhi for 22 years. Last time when the lockdown was announced, I went back home. We returned a few months ago. Now, another lockdown has been announced and we don’t know what will happen,” said Munesh as he waited for a bus at Kalindi Kunj border on Monday morning.
At DND, several people were waiting for vehicles to go towards Bihar. Subhash Yadav and Rakesh Kumar, who work at a bakery in Delhi’s Gole Market, said their employer asked them to go back. “Before last year’s lockdown, there were more than 70 workers at the bakery. But half of them left. Now, those from Bihar have been asked to return because the bakery will be shut for some time,” said Subhash from Darbhanga.
Meanwhile, at Morna bus depot, many drivers and conductors are working in two shifts. “Of the 215 buses, about 160 are functional. Most vehicles are making double trips. On Monday, we had to send 45 buses to Kaushambi depot because of the rush there,” said a driver.
Officials said most people are headed towards Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Sitapur, Jaunpur, Kanpur and Allahabad. Manish Singh, from Aligarh, who works in a bank in Delhi’s Govindpuri, said he and his colleagues have been asked to go home. “Most institutions are offering leave without pay for the lockdown duration,” he said.
Private bus fares hiked, say passengers
Owners of some private buses have doubled the charges on the Kanpur and Lucknow routes. Rishabh Dwivedi, an employee at a call centre in Gurgaon, said he took a private bus from Kaushambi for Lucknow on Monday. “I was asked to pay Rs 2,000 for a seat. They were charging Rs 1,000 from those who wanted to get to the roof of the vehicle,” he said. The cost of a ticket on the route is between Rs 800 and Rs 1,000.