Worried By Rising COVID-19 Cases and Job Loss, Migrants Continue to Leave Mumbai

Several daily wage workers said they have already seen work drying up and are unsure of how they will manage if the curfew is extended further.

New Delhi: Ever since the start of this week, when rising COVID-19 cases during India’s severe second wave gave rise to fears of a new lockdown or other similar restrictions, migrant workers in Mumbai, largely from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have been going back to their home towns and villages.

The rising cases, media reports say, meant that several migrants were already facing lowered wages and fearing for their jobs. Migrant workers had already begun leaving on Monday, before Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a 15-day curfew across the state.

Mumbai’s major railway station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, has been seeing crowds of migrant workers looking for trains this entire week.

Before Thackeray’s announcement, many believed that the state may go into a full-fledged lockdown. Given that train services had been suspended during the national lockdown last year, they rushed to get confirmed tickets as soon as possible.

“It was difficult to get into the station because of the crowds, but I managed because I had a ticket,” Munna Yadav, a migrant worker, told the Times of India. He said he paid Rs 2,300 for a ticket that normally costs Rs 450.

Several daily wage workers said they have already seen work drying up and are unsure of how they will manage if the curfew is extended further, the newspaper reported.

While announcing the curfew, Thackeray also announced a Rs 5,476 crore relief package for 35 lakh beneficiaries in the state, whose livelihood may be affected. However, activists told the Times of India that many workers feared their needs would not be meant despite the government’s intentions.

In light of the increased demand, the zonal railways are operating daily additional special outstation trains towards North India, including Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Assam, Hindustan Times reported.

“Last year I had to wait for a month to board the train operated specially for migrant workers. I know the troubles I faced and how I survived with very little money. My friends have already left for their native places and even I am planning to do so shortly,” Noor Alam, who works as a salesman in a clothes shop, told HT.

As tickets dry up, many are trying hard to find a way to board a train or bus that will take them homewards. Private bus operators are plying buses to distant locations, seeing the demand. “As I am not getting train tickets, I plan to go to Uttarakhand by bus,” Shivani Aswal, a saleswoman who is working in a cosmetics store in Andheri, told HT. “Though it will take at least four days, it is better than staying in lockdown in Mumbai.”

Monu Gupta from Gorakhpur told News18 that he too is heading back to his hometown. He works at a diamond polishing unit that has closed, with the promise of reopening in a week or two. “I do not believe them after my last year’s experience. I think the curfew may get extended for a month or two. So, I am heading back home and will come back when the curfew ends.”

Given the expected influx of migrant workers at a time when COVID-19 cases are steeply rising across the country, including in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, the Uttar Pradesh government has put in place restrictions for those coming back home. In addition to temperature screening, those with no symptoms are expected to quarantine themselves for seven days, while those showing some symptoms have to quarantine themselves for 14 days.