According to a report by the Delhi government, at least 800,000 migrant workers travelled from Delhi to their home states in the first four weeks of the lockout, nearly half of them in the first week, highlighting that buses and other arrangements were made for labourers to avoid a repeat of last year’s crisis.
Between April 19 and May 14, when the lockdown was implemented to prevent a devastating fourth wave of infections, 807,032 passengers boarded buses to travel to other states from three interstate bus terminals (ISBTs) in Delhi. In addition to the regular buses that run from the terminals, the governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand organised these buses specifically for migrant workers.
A report by the state transport department said, “The timely coordination with transport authorities of neighbouring states especially Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand by the Delhi government has helped about eight lakh migrant workers reach their destination without any difficulty. There was no complaint of overcharging as the interstate buses were owned and operated by the respective state governments.”
On April 19, a weekend curfew in Delhi was extended to a six-day lockdown. At the time, the city was averaging 20,000 cases a day, almost every third person screened was positive, and hospitals were overburdened with patients and running low on oxygen and critical medications. The lockout has been extended four times since then, despite a drop in regular infections and positivity rates.
When the lockdown was announced, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal urged migrant workers not to leave the region, assuring them that the government would look after them. Migrants began congregating at the three ISBTs at Kashmere Gate, Sarai Kale Khan, and Anand Vihar soon after.
However, unlike last year, when a nationwide lockdown on March 25 prompted tens of thousands of panicked employees to throng ISBTs and wait for 12-16 hours for a bus or walk hundreds of kilometres back home, Delhi government officials had negotiated bus arrangements with other state governments, especially Uttar Pradesh, ahead of time.
To be sure, since the lockout is still in place, there are no current figures as to how many migrants have returned to the Capital.
During the first week of the lockdown, almost half of the passengers (379,604) quit. According to the survey, the number of passengers dropped to 212,448 in the second week, 122,490 in the third week, and 92,490 in the fourth week. It also reported that the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) and cluster buses made it possible for 827,905 passengers to be dropped off at ISBTs within the city. During the ongoing lockdown, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority did allow citizens to travel via ISBT, airports, and railway stations.
In addition, the state organised 500 cluster buses to transport employees from Delhi to remote locations in neighbouring states.
The buses had no restrictions on who could board, but officials said the high number of outbound trips in the first week, combined with the lockdown, which prevented non-emergency travel, meant that migrants made up the vast majority of those who travelled.
A transport department official said, “The report states the number of passengers who boarded interstate buses from Delhi including the additional buses deployed by various states. The weekly break-up of the same shows that the demand for such transport services was highest during the first week, indicating it is mostly migrant workers and their families who were using these buses to reach their villages.”