Soaked in sweat and with not an extra inch to reposition themselves, a group of around 40 to 45 migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, huddled together in a truck, were on their way to their native place when the Navi Mumbai Police intercepted their vehicle on Friday night.
A young mother of two, tugging her one-year-old tightly to her chest did not know how will they manage to travel 1,700 km to their native in Siddharthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh which by road on a vehicle could take anywhere between five-six days.
Many of these migrants had collected their life savings of around Rs 3,000 to 5,000 and handed it over to the truck driver who had promised them to take them to their villages. Some of them had even borrowed money so they could pay up the amount.
Nand Kumar had just arrived in Mumbai to make a living and started working in a textile unit a fortnight before the lockdown due to coronavirus was announced.
He was also in the group of migrant workers duped by the trucker waiting on the roadside while his wife with her year-old infant was still inside the truck’s container.
Speaking to India Today TV team, he said “I arrived in Mumbai just a fortnight before the lockdown was announced and had been working in the textile unit. Due to the lockdown, we don’t have any work or money so, we decided to leave in this truck going to Siddharthnagar.”
He added, “I paid Rs 6,000 to the truck driver for the journey. I was forced to leave as I had no money left with me and had to borrow this money so that I could leave for my native place. We had registered [for Shramik special trains] but it was taking very long and I had no clue when we will be allowed to travel so we decided to go in this truck. I paid him Rs 6,000 and Rs 1,000 was to be paid after reaching Siddharthnagar.”
Unable to cope with no wages, hunger, and uncertainty amid the coronavirus crisis which has affected over 56,000 people in India, there are hundreds and thousands of migrants like Nand Kumar who can be seen walking towards the Mumbai-Agra highway, trying to make it to their respective villages, some as far as 1,800 km.
The group of migrants on the truck were fleeing from Mumbai, the same city to which they had come a few months ago to eke out a living.
With no other option in sight, no assurance even after registering for Shramik special trains operated by the Indian Railways to ferry the migrants to their native places, these workers opted for the option in front of them, a truck where they were put up in the container like a flock of sheep.
Santosh Kumar, who was going to Azamgarh in the truck and had paid Rs 7,000 for two persons, spoke to India Today TV and said, “The vehicle belongs to one Pramod Jadhav and is from Digha village in Navi Mumbai. I work as a driver and had heard from some other drivers about the truck going to UP so I tried contacting them. This vehicle was going to Siddharthnagar and I had to go to my native place is Azamgarh. I have paid Rs 7,000 to the driver”.
Suraj Tripathi, student from Navi Mumbai, said, “I had to go to Gorakhpur and so when I heard about this truck leaving for Siddharthnagar, I paid Rs 3,000 for the travel. The driver was stopped at a check post in Mahape. The driver stopped the vehicle at some distance and then fled with the keys and the money he had collected from the migrants.
The Turbhe Police has identified the driver as one Hussain Mahmood Allah Farhad Khan and has booked him under Section of 188, 270, 279 of IPC, sections of the Disaster Management Act and Epidemic Act. He has been summoned and asked him to appear before the police after the lockdown.
The truck has been seized by police but the migrant workers, who lost their money, are in further distress now.
Scores of migrant workers can be seen every night walking towards the Mumbai-Agra highway on foot. Few Shramik trains have run from Mumbai but lakhs of migrant workers with no money and food, are forced to take the road to reach their native places.
“I came to know that a vehicle is leaving for Siddharthnagar so, I paid the owner of the vehicle Rs 7,000 for the trip for two persons. I don’t know the name of the person but was told that the vehicle will take us to Siddharthnagar,” Tulsi Ram, who works as mason in Navi Mumbai, said.
Sandeep Kumar was trying to reach Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh through this vehicle.
“I had paid Rs 2,000 for the trip. I don’t know the name of the driver or owner of this vehicle. This vehicle had left from Digha in Navi Mumbai.”
Other than kids aged one to three, there were few women and kids travelling in the vehicle who along with others lost whatever money they had with them to the driver who is on the run.
Navi Mumbai Police has presently kept the 42 migrant workers in a shelter in the city.