Hundreds of migrant workers trying to walk home to Uttar Pradesh from places like Delhi, Gurgaon and Rajasthan were stopped by the police in west UP's Firozabad earlier this morning , leading to chaos and confusion.
The migrant workers and their families including small children and the elderly had already walked hundreds of kilometres before they were stopped.
Eventually buses were arranged to take them to a nearby college where the UP government says they will be fed and then sent to their hometowns in buses.
But many of the men, women and children walking hundreds of kilometres amid the severe heat alleged that any help on the highway also came at a steep price, unaffordable for many of those walking home.
"We are coming from Rajasthan. From Alwar. We were mostly walking. We also found a truck but he was asking for money. He took Rs 100 for a 10 km journey. But the cops stopped the truck and made us step down. We thought some proper food arrangements would be made but just some rice pulao was made and given to us in limited quantities," said Nitin Goswami, a migrant worker trying to walk home to east UP with his wife and 2-year-old child.
"Some 50 km before Agra, we met a police team who put us on a truck. But after the cops left, the truck driver did move ahead for about 20 km but them started asking us for money. We don't have any money. So he made us get off. We walked another 20 km only to be stopped by cops here," said Hari Prasad, a 20-year-old trying to go home from Rajasthan to Gonda in UP's Awadh region.
When a countrywide lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, with just four hours' notice, tens of thousands of migrant labourers were stuck in the cities where they work 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.
In UP, the state government says it has brought back about 5 lakh migrants workers using buses and now trains, but thousands of desperate workers are still walking into the state.