The Maharashtra government has finally woken up from its slumber and announced a plan to transport Maharashtrian labourers, students and others, who are stranded in cities due to the lockdown, to their homes. The process will start from May 11.
On Saturday, state Transport Minister Anil Parab declared that the people will be transported from cities to their native places and also from one district to other, with conditions and permission from concerned authorities. "All those who want to go from one city to one district should form into groups of 22 people. They should make a group leader and that group leader should go to local police station or tehsil office with application form. In the form, the destination, mobile number of all people in group and departure location should be mentioned," said Anil Parab. "Those who can’t form a group should go to the local police station or teshil office. Also state government has come up with a portal where these people can apply. They will be called once the required number of people for similar destinations are gathered and arrangements have been made for a bus," said Parab.
The announcement came after the state government drew severe flak for not arranging transport services for the labourers, workers, students and others who are stuck in the cities and want to go to their villages. The workers are mainly stranded in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Nasik, Aurangabad and Nagpur cities.
Santosh Patil heads a forum called Amhi Sangalikar (We Sangli citizens) for people who are from Sangli district of Western Maharashtra but are based in Mumbai. According ot him, there would be at least 20,000 young boys and girls in Mumbai right now who require help. "Mainly labourers and street vendors, boys who work in hotels, shops and other small and medium establishments and students have been stuck in Mumbai since March 22. They want to go back and stay with their relatives, parents in villages. State will have to arrange adequate buses, even trains for them," he said.
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Mumbai and Pune have been categorised as red zones keeping in view the large number of COVID-19 cases reported. Mumbai is at the top of the list with the highest number of patients in country. Most of these stranded workers and students are staying in the most densely populated areas of Mumbai, so taking them to the lesser affected regions is also not free from risks.
"As per the guidelines, the people who will come via buses will be taken for 14 days quarantine. The arrangements in the schools and other public institutions will be made. These guidelines have been issued for all the district offices," said Medical Education Minister Amit Deshmukh.
The clearance of bus will be issued only after the district collector of the destination village or area has given the permission for the same. The police station or tehsil office have to send the forms to district office. They will send the application to the destination district office. These offices will clear the application as per the arrangements and give the dates of travel. People will have to travel on the date cleared by the district office of their destination.
"This process could be lengthy. The labourers and others have been already stranded in for over 45 days till now. This process will push them to wait for some more time. The decision of this arrangement is issued on May 9 and the process will start from May 11. Lockdown 3.0 will continue till May 17. Though we don't know whether it will be extended or not but the delay in such decisions to take stranded people back to their native places can't be ignored or overlooked. This should have been done before and smoothly," said senior journalist Jatin Desai.
Anesh Eknath Kate is from Kondaye village of Kankavali teshil of Sindhudurg district. He works in a car showroom as a mechanic in Lower Parel area of Mumbai, which has emerged as one of the highly affected areas of COVID-19. The showroom where he works was closed on March 24. Since then, he has been staying in his chawl and rarely goes out, except to buy milk or vegetables. But he is scared to stay in Mumbai and wants to go back to his village. He has been trying to go since the first day of the lockdown but has been unable to go so far. "I hope, at least I will get to go out now. I will go to the police station on Sunday itself and apply," he told NewsClick. On being asked if he has already formed his group, he said, “No. But I am trying to gather boys in my touch and from our teshil.”
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There are also other guidelines issued by the Transport Department. As per the guidelines, those who will receive pass or permission to travel will have to carry their food for the journey. It won't stop anywhere for food. Bus will stop in depots of state transport department only for toilets. Also, all the passengers will have to maintain distance in bus throughout their journey and compulsorily wear mask. The journey will be be free of cost.
"Strict implementation of rules and not allowing any single person to go home without completion of institutional quarantine period of 14 days is must. Only then the policy will be successful. Any failure will put the state again at high risk. State authorities are seriously worried about it," said a senior bureaucrat.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has clearly indicated that the lockdown in Mumbai and Pune may be extended till May end. This has therefore led to more fears that the stranded people may become even more impatient. Thus, arrangements for their quick transport should be made.