'Poor Always Suffer': Stranded Migrant Workers Find Refuge in Yamuna Riverbed Amid Lockdown

New Delhi: It's 9:30 pm and hundreds of people have started making a beeline for night shelters near Yamuna river to spend their nights in relative comfort. However, scores have to shift to the river bed under the open skies owing to the overcrowded space, flouting government's directions of maintaining social distancing amid the novel coronavirus crisis that has claimed 77 lives across the country.

Some, who could not manage space at the night shelters or in the river bed also rolled out their beddings at the memorial of the first Lt Governor of Delhi AN Jha, opposite Kashmere Gate's Inter-State Bus Terminal, just two km from the residences of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Lt Governor Anil Baijal.

The number of the people, looking for a shelter in the area, has swelled up in the last 10 days following the 21-day nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of novel coronavirus, with all 10 night shelters with a total capacity of lodging 500 persons reduced to mere 160.

Vikas, a resident of Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow, who used to work as a helper at a restaurant in East Delhi's Mayur Vihar has also found a place to lodge on the Yamuna riverbed.

He said, "I wanted to go back to my native place. But I cannot since buses and train services were stopped the very next day of the start of the 21-day lockdown."

"And now I have finally found a place to sleep at night," he said, adding that the government provides them food twice a day.

Mohammad Naushad, who is from Jharkhand's Ramgarh, too narrated his ordeal, "It happens every time with poor like us. The government announces such decisions late, giving us no time to prepare."

He said: "I worked as a labourer in Connaught Place. By the time the lockdown announcement reached us, it was too late. And now I have no money and forced to stay here while depending on the food provided by the government."

Pointing towards the river bank, he said, "Here, mosquitoes don't allow us to sleep. And when we do get some sleep, stray dogs start barking."

Asked if he got some money from the government during the lockdown in his bank account, he said, "I don't have a bank account. Whatever help the government has to give they should give us here."

Walking from the river bed towards the memorabilia of first Lt Governor of Delhi, hundreds of people were seen sleeping in the open near the night shelters.

Sunil Aledia, the founding member of the Centre for Holistic Development, who works for the homeless people, said, "About 2,500 people, who are unable to find a place in the night shelters in the Kashmere Gate area, are forced to sleep in the open.

Asked about the number of people housed in each night shelter, he said, "The night shelters with a capacity of lodging 50 people have now been allocated 16 beds each as per the social distancing norm. Thus, bringing down the number of occupants to less than half."

Aledia also pointed out that the Delhi government has not arranged for screening or health camps for labourers residing near the Kashmere Gate area.

"If someone gets ill, then it will become problematic for everyone," he said.

"Two people have died in the last three days," he added.

Another migrant from Uttar Pradesh's Mainpuri, Ajay Yadav said, "I worked as a cook in a restaurant. I am stuck here as the restaurant is closed and I have no work."

Yadav said that he arrived in the Kashmere Gate area hoping to get a bus for Mainpuri but it was too late as all buses were stopped by then.

He said, "I had about Rs 1,000 with me when the lockdown was announced, but in the last 10 days I have spent over Rs 700 on buying biscuits and water."

Yadav said that on Saturday, a homeless person died near the Yamuna river. "He was ill for the last few days. We found him dead in the afternoon when we came for lunch. His body was taken by the police."

The Health Ministry on Sunday said 77 deaths were reported across the country due to Covid-19, with total cases climbing to 3,374.

As of now, 3,030 cases were active while 266 people have been discharged.