Maharashtra is 'almost' under lockdown. Public movement is restricted and people are asked to stay at home. Apart from essential services, all others are closed. All this is leading to the scenes of 2020 when the national lockdown was imposed.
Labourers, who are without work or jobless now, are returning to their native places. In 2020, they had no railway services to go back and hence, they walked. The only difference this time is that the railways are running and so the labourers have been returning home.
Mahesh Udiyar, who used to drive an auto-rickshaw in Mumbai's Chembur area, was waiting at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) for a train to Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. He along with his wife and two children are leaving Mumbai, his work city, as there is no work left for him.
"Autos are not allowed to be taken out in this time. Then why wait here? The auto owner would not give me salary for this month. So, I decided to return to home," said Mahesh. "We cannot afford to stay here if there is no work," he added.
Maharashtra government has appealed labourers and others to not leave the state. The state labour minister Hassan Mushrif has urged them to stay back. "We will take care of you all. We will provide you food as well as food grains," said Mushrif.
But this appeal is not working. Neither the other announcements made by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray are having much impact. While addressing the state on April 13, Thackeray said that the hawkers, autowalas and other people from the labourer class will get Rs 1500 as compensation. But, labourers who are leaving the city are calling it 'too less' an amount to survive in a city like Mumbai.
Avnesh Kumar worked as a helper in a marble shop at Santa Cruz, Mumbai. When NewsClick went to see the situation at Kurla's Lokmanya Tilak terminus, Avnesh and his friends were waiting in a long queue outside the terminus. "Last year, we went to Maharashtra border by bus. From there to Indore by truck. Then we walked till UP border. Later, we got a truck to go home in Unnav. This year, at least we will get direct railway," he said. His ticket was not confirmed, so the Rail Police had asked him to wait till it gets confirmed.
"The Central Railways have announced 230 special summer trains till now. It could go up if commuters are more in number. As per our reports, these trains are running with full capacity," said Shivaji Sutar, chief PRO of Central Railways. Western Railways have 250 trains and they are also planning to increase the number of trains.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government has announced to give food and food grains to labourers--food via it's scheme Shiv Bhojan Thali and grains via the rationing system. Thackeray claimed that it will cover seven crore people. However, sources in the food and civil supply department told NewsClick that only 65 lakh persons are covered under the rationing announcement of Rs 2 per kilogram of rice and Rs 3 per kilogram of wheat. People below the poverty line are 40 lakh, people who comes under Antyodaya scheme of the central government are 24 lakh and people above 65 but supportless are 25 thousands in the state. So, the number goes around 65 lakh, according to this source.
"We have been demanding to keep the condition of ration card aside for sometime. As this is an unprecedented situation and the godowns of the state are full with grains, the state government should give ration to everyone coming to shop. This is not considered even in this lockdown. It would have helped to stop labourers back at their workplaces or work cities," said senior social activist Ulka Mahajan.
There is one common fear among all labourers who are leaving the city-- this mini lockdown will be extended like last year. More than fear of the coronavirus, the extension of lockdown and its aftereffects are haunting the poor labourers.
Rudranath Gauda Patil from Dharwad district of Karnataka works at a restaurant in Thane. As the restaurants and hotels are now closed and only delivery service is allowed, Rudranath has no work left. His owner told him to go back to home and he will call Rudranath once everything came back to normal.
"What do we do by sitting workless? At least now I can go home, help my brother in the farm. This would not end in 15 days (as restrictions are put for 15 days). This will go on and on like last year," he said while waiting for his train at CSMT.
No matter what Maharashtra government announces for the labourers, it is the fear of lockdown and becoming workless that is ruling the minds of the poor and the labourers.
From 8 pm on Wednesday, curfew-like restrictions have come into effect across Maharashtra in an attempt to curb the Coronavirus spread. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 have been imposed till May 1. The state reported 58,952 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday.