Migrants crossing the Yamuna floodplain in a bid to avoid police barricades nearby, Sunday.
Hours after the Union Home Ministry told the chief secretaries of each state and union territory to arrange food and shelter for stranded migrant workers, Delhi Police stopped those trying to leave the capital on foot, sealed borders and barricaded arterial roads, especially those leading to the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border. The Ministry also told states that those who have been walking have violated the lockdown, and must be quarantined after screening for 14 days.
“We are stopping and asking them why they are leaving. They are then being told about the arrangements the state and Centre have made,” said a senior police officer. He said police are also telling migrant workers about how such a mass movement can spread COVID-19.
The Centre has asked states to utilise the State Disaster Response Fund to provide food and shelter. “Earlier, SHOs were directed to arrange food for the poor in their areas... Now, they have been told to focus on law and order instead, and stop migrants from leaving,” the officer said.
Delhi Police spokesperson Mandeep Singh Randhawa said, “We have sealed all borders and blocked the exit of migrant workers. We have also blocked entry and are now providing them facilities arranged by government departments. We are either dropping them at their place or shifting them to the shelters.” Personnel have been told to be polite, but take legal action if anyone violates CrPC section 144. Delhi Police Commissioner S N Shrivastava also visited several areas in the capital to check preparedness.
At Anand Vihar, where thousands had gathered on Saturday night to catch buses to their villages, some confusion remained.
While empty buses waited on the road, the entrance to the terminal was barricaded by police, as hundreds of migrants gathered, pleading to be let in.
Kamlesh (40), who earns Rs 400 a day as a labourer at a tile factory in Trilokpuri, said, “We were left with a day or two of work money, with hardly anything to eat.” She said she had to think of her five children. “We don’t have money to pay rent. Our neighbours are not helping us. We have even taken loans from people,” she added.
As people were stopped from gathering at Anand Vihar, many started walking to Ghaziabad, hoping to reach the Lal Kuan bus stop. As the day passed, police got stricter. By evening, security was increased at the borders and only a few labourers were seen standing near the Anand Vihar bus terminal.
Santosh Mishra (33), a labourer who lives in Shahdara, hid in one of the lanes there. He said, “I have been waiting since morning, but police won’t let anyone go. My wife and sister are waiting at a shop nearby. We want to return home to Badaun.”
A few people tried moving towards Anand Vihar railway station, but found barricades on the way. Deepak Kumar (45), a fruit seller, said his family lives in Moradabad and he had come to Delhi a month ago for his cousin’s wedding. “I can’t live alone. I want to go back to my children but police are not allowing it,” he said.
In a wireless message sent out to personnel, the police chief instructed them to increase picket deployment and stop the movement of every bus going outside the capital. “All district DCPs, ACPs and SHOs have been instructed to make announcements in areas with migrant population that the government will pay them their full wages and also create awareness among them about the threat of spread of coronavirus and also to warn them that strict action will be taken if they are seen on the roads,” he added.
Meanwhile, the owner of three private buses and his three drivers were arrested during picket-checking at Dhaula Kuan flyover on Sunday for allegedly carrying passengers in violation of lockdown orders.
Deployment of pickets should be enhanced on all roads leading towards Delhi, including places such as Metro tracks and railways tracks.