Avnish Awasthi, additional secretary with department of home affairs in Uttar Pradesh government, today said that no migrant workers are walking on Uttar Pradesh’s roads as of today.
His comments come in the wake of widespread outrage over media reports showing families, including small children, walking on the highways of Uttar Pradesh and adjacent states in an effort to get home before Coronavirus lockdown relaxations are withdrawn.
In an effort to address the outrage, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had yesterday directed UP Police to seal the state borders and stop anyone trying to enter the state on foot. This has, in turn, lead to a build up of migrant workers at the state’s borders with Delhi and Madhya Pradesh.
The UP government also prevented the Congress Party from trying to take political advantage of the situation by blocking nearly 500 buses hired by the party from entering the state. These buses, reportedly hired at a cost of Rs 16,000 each, were supposed to ferry migrant workers from the borders to their homes in UP.
The state government has been trying to control the number of people coming back into the state by restricting the mode of return to railways.
Unlike in March, this time, the UP government did not sent buses to big cities like Delhi and Mumbai to bring back its migrant workers.
Instead, it has relied largely on special trains called Shramik Express, each of which carries around 1,200-1,500 people.
The railway system is possibly seen as a more manageable and organized way of bringing in returning workers compared to buses, which can be more difficult to track.
Awasthi said these trains are already carrying 1.5 lakh migrant workers to Uttar Pradesh from other parts of the country every day.
These returning workers and families are being given foodgrain packets and sent home or to institutional quarantine, depending on whether they’re showing any signs of Coronavirus infection, he said.
Around 15 lakh (1.5 million) migrant workers have already been brought back to Uttar Pradesh via 1,044 trains over the last two weeks.
Awasthi said the number of trains have been ramped up in recent days, and as of yesterday, 100 out of the 200 Shramik Expresses running India were either destined for or passed through Uttar Pradesh.
At 1,500 passengers per train, 100 trains can transport 1.5 lakh persons.
However, given that UP has tens of millions of its residents working in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, even the 1.5 lakh seats on various trains is falling well short of demand. With no food or money, many migrant workers are resorting to the desperate measure of trying to get back to their village on foot.
To prevent the resulting road accidents and bad press, the UP government has pulled out all stops to stop migrants from walking on the highways.
“We have ensured that no one needs to walk anywhere in the state,” Awasthi said. “Over the last 2-3 days, whoever was found on the roads have been put on buses and trains.”
As for buses, Awasthi said 12,000 state transport corporation buses and 15,000 private buses are in use in the state, mostly to ferry returning migrants from railway stations to government quarantine facilities or their villages.
He also said intra-state trains are being run from cities in western and central UP, including Ghaziabad, Kanpur, Jhansi, Prayagraj and Moradabad, to Eastern UP, where most of the migrant workers are headed to.
SPIKE IN CASES
Meanwhile, the influx of lakhs of migrant workers has led to a spike in the number of new Coronavirus cases being reported in Uttar Pradesh in the last 2-3 days.
Against the usual 90-100 cases per day, the government reported 321 new cases of COVID-19. Today, Awasthi reported another 269 new cases.
He said 629 returning migrant workers have so far shown symptoms of COVID-19 out of 5.36 lakh surveyed by ASHA workers.
The total number of COVID-19 cases reported from Uttar Pradesh has crossed the 5,000 mark, while the number of active cases has crossed the 2,000 mark as of today.
12,427 persons are being held in government-controlled quarantine facilities, and all those who are returning from other states and not showing COVID-19 symptoms have been put in home quarantine.