Men, women and children are walking, hundreds of kilometres, along the road connecting Mumbai and the neighboring town of Bhiwandi, towards their villages in other states or within Maharashtra. The migrant workers are choosing to taking the journey by foot, saying the wait for the special trains organised by the government is too long.
This morning, NDTV came across a group of 20 people walking from Ghansoli in Navi Mumbai to their village in Buldhana in Maharashtra, a journey of over 480 km. The group includes young children and a seven-month pregnant woman, all taking the journey by foot with little food and money.
"I sit once in a while...," said Nikita, the pregnant woman, as she walked on the road wearing a saree. The woman, who started her walk at 7 pm yesterday, said she had been on the road for the last 12 hours. A young man walked behind her, carrying their belongings on his head.
"What will we do staying here? There are no arrangements here for our food and water," she told NDTV.
Abandoning caution, they will be on the streets and highways across multiple towns of Maharashtra, risking police anger, the summer heat and the possibility of running out of food.
The daily wager earners also fear the situation for them will worsen in cities once the monsoon sets in. "Once it starts raining here, it will be difficult to get food and water. When we go to the police station to seek permission, they beat us," the man walking behind her said.
Another young woman was seen walking, carrying one child one her hips and the other, on her shoulder.
In another part of Mumbai, a group of 15 young men - all migrant workers - have begun cycling from Mumbai to their village in Bihar's Darbhanga, a journey of nearly 2,000 km. The workers say they are going ahead with the long and difficult journey as they haven't been able to take the special trains organsied by the government for stranded migrants to travel to their home states during the lockdown.
The men set out from Mumbai's Santa Cruz on their bicycles at 3 am today and will take several days to reach their destination, if they are not stopped at state borders. When NDTV caught up with them in Mumbai, they were a few hours into their journey.
When asked why they are not taking the special trains, one of the men said, "They have only been saying these things for a long time. They said we will be sent home after 14th. Till now, nothing has happened. We have not heard from them. It's been 45 days."
Apart from their bare belongings such as a few clothes and steel plates kept in a carrier on their cycles, all that they're carrying for the road is some churra or dry, flattened rice. Some of them have backpacks.
They said though all of them got themselves tested for coronavirus, they haven't received the test results.
When a countrywide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, with just four hours' notice, tens of thousands of migrant workers were stuck in the cities where they labour as daily wagers. With their earnings cut off abruptly, many of them decided to head home. The complete unavailability of any public transport meant they had to walk, hundreds of kilometres, in some case, without food or water, occasionally carrying a child or two in their arms, to return to their villages.
Last Friday, after the ruling BJP at the centre reportedly concluded that the political backlash was building up to a worrying swell, the government announced that special trains would ferry migrant workers back home. Social distancing would be enforced through limited seating; the passengers had to be screened by officials to ensure they were not infected with coronavirus before they were allowed at stations, and upon their arrival, it was upto the receiving state government to quarantine them before they could reunite with their families.
After criticism from the opposition for making the migrants pay for their train journey, official sources said the government was already subsidising 85 per cent of the ticket fare and that it was up to the states to bear the remaining cost of the ticket.