Forty two-year-old Umesh Jha, a powerloom worker in Bhiwandi, was ecstatic when he finally learnt that buses and trains were being arranged to take migrant workers like him back to their home states. Jha queued up at the ST bus depot in Bhiwandi, Thane district at 3am on Tuesday, 5 April, to collect a registration form that would enable him to apply for a commute back home to Madhubani district in Bihar.
“I have been waiting since 3am but no one (government official) is here yet. We don’t know what’s happening. There were thousands of people who had come here but the police just announced on loudspeaker that today, registration forms would only be given out to people who are going back to Patna. There were people who wanted to go back to UP who had gathered here as well.”Umesh Jha, migrant worker
Having almost run out of money over the past 6 weeks, another worry that Jha has is, how much would he have to shell out to make this journey? “We haven’t been told how much we need to pay yet but people who left on the train for Gorakhpur recently, paid Rs 800 for fares and Rs 50 for food,” he said.
Thousands of migrant labourers languishing in Mumbai, hundreds of kilometres away from their homes, found a ray of hope on 29 April when the government opened up inter-state travel. Over the weekend, workers began thronging to centres and clinics to collect registration forms and medical certificates they need to help them travel back home. But the process hasn’t been easy for the workers who are desperate to go back home.
Hurdle 1: Collecting Registration forms
Registration forms are being distributed to the stranded labourers by nodal officers of the Maharashtra government. The Mumbai police have been giving out these forms at distribution centres, relief camps, community kitchens among other places. In areas other than Mumbai, district collectors are distributing these forms that labourers need to fill in with their details.
22-year-old Bablu Yadav, who wants to head back home to Jharkhand from Taloja in Raigad district of Maharashtra, says he and his friends initially collected forms from their local political ‘shakha’ on 1 May. However, they were later told by the authorities that the form was invalid. Forms collected from the authorised police officers and nodal officers of the state would only be accepted. Yadav once again queued up, this time outside the local police station on 4 April to collect another form for which he claims to have paid Rs 20.
“We were just asked to fill in our details, our phone numbers, addresses, add the medical certificate and submit our forms. They said that they will get back to us.”Bablu Yadav, migrant worker
Hurdle 2: Medical Certificates
A crucial document that needs to be submitted along with the registration form is a medical certificate. To avoid overcrowding outside government hospitals and clinics, the BMC issued a circular on Sunday, 3 April, stating,
“All Medical Colleges, Peripheral Hospitals, Municipal Dispensaries working under Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and registered Medical Practitioners practicing in Mumbai can issue certificates after taking history and clinical examination of the persons wishing to travel that he/she does not have influenza like symptoms.”
The circular directed that certificates are mandatory and can be issued at fixed hours, ‘for example in dispensaries from 2pm-4pm’.
Sources in the BMC confirmed that as per rule, dispensaries and hospitals can charge Rs 10 per certificate. The situation on the ground however, is different.
“I had to pay Rs 100 for my medical certificate. They asked me if I had a cold, cough, checked my pulse and signed off on my certificate. Nine of us went together for the exam, we paid Rs 900 in total for our medical certificate.”Bablu Yadav, migrant worker
Hurdle 3: Trains and Buses
The registration forms consisting of medical certificates are submitted to the police and nodal officers who then have to coordinate with both the home state and the host state for permissions.
“This is a process that requires huge coordination. We receive forms at the police station level. We have to send it to the nodal officers of the state as well as the receiving state. Both have to consent. Some of the states have given blanket permissions, some have not. So, whatever the procedure is, we follow it. Once the permission comes, we allow the bus or the vehicle to leave,” said a Mumbai police official.
So far, trains carrying migrant labourers have left from Mumbai’s Thane and Vasai districts. These trains were headed for states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Those travelling within Maharashtra and to neighbouring states however, are taking buses.
“So far, 20 to 25 buses have already gone. People in the nearer states prefer buses but for longer journeys, they prefer trains. That option is also being worked out and trains are being arranged for going to UP, Bihar and other states.”DCP Pranaya Ashok, Spokesperson, Mumbai police
The police are coordinating with the transport department and making arrangements for buses. However, migrant workers have to pay for these journeys out of their own pockets. “As of now, they are organising their own vehicles, be it cars or buses and they are going. Or for trains, if there are sufficient number of people for a station, we are organising trains”, said another police official.
But with hope within their grasp after two long months, worrying about money is not an option for most stranded labourers.
“I am from Nepal but if I can just somehow reach Bihar, I can do something and find my way back home. I just had about Rs 2000 and I have been surviving on that money. It’s almost over but I have to get back home. Just get me to Bihar, please,” requested Indradev Mandal, who stood in the scorching sun at the bus depot in Bhiwandi, waiting for his turn to collect a form.