Amid lockdown, late night rush sees a packed bus depot in Delhi

Mallica Joshi, Amil Bhatnagar

At Anand Vihar ISBT, Saturday night.

For three years, Ramesh Singh (26) has longed to return home to UP’s Badaun. But the urge to make the 280-km-long journey has never been as strong as it is now.

A father of two boys, Singh, a waiter, lives in South Delhi’s Kotla Mubarakpur. For three days, he was apprehensive as he saw his neighbours leaving for their villages on foot. But on Saturday, news reached him that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had “arranged for buses at the Delhi-UP border”. “After walking three hours, we reached Anand Vihar in the evening. Four hours on, we are still waiting to get into a bus. My wife and children are inside the terminal, I am outside looking for a way to get home,” said Singh on Saturday night.

With restaurants shut, Singh is running out of money and patience: “My employer has given me two-thirds of my salary. I can’t blame him, he is suffering massive losses too.”

At 10 pm Saturday, roads leading to the Anand Vihar Interstate Bus Terminal were packed with people and buses. By evening, the UP and Delhi governments had arranged close to 1,000 buses. Some of these were at Lal Kuan in Ghaziabad, Meerut and Sahibabad. Around 11 pm, several buses began taking people away. But more and more people continued walking towards Anand Vihar.

Police tried to stop workers and divert them to shelters. “We said we will ensure they get shelter and food in Delhi, but nothing is working. They are yearning for their villages and families,” said a police constable on duty at the terminal.

Till Saturday night, many people were still being allowed to pass through. The order to stop movement and seal borders was passed by the MHA on Sunday. By 2 am, migrant workers were told they will now get buses at Ghaziabad’s Lal Kuan – 20 km away.Sheshnaag (36) asked 15 people in an hour about his bus to Bareilly. He went to Lal Kuan but returned after he failed to get one. “My wife and four sons are inside the terminal. In the last three-four hours, there have been announcements that buses are finally leaving from Lal Kuan. I will take them to Lal Kuan again to see if it is actually coming,” he said.

Delhi Police could be seen looking for Ghaziabad policemen to confirm the plan of action. Soon, an announcement was made to send people to Lal Kuan. At 3 am at Lal Kuan, policemen announced about buses leaving for Kanpur and Lucknow. With no streetlight for 200 metres, crowds huddled in the dark so no one got lost.

“Officials told us there is a disease and we need to avoid travelling. For us, the disease means nothing. If we don’t have wages, hunger will kill us first,” said Ashfaq, who is headed to Aligarh.

By 3.30 am, more people found seats and the buses left.