New Delhi, May 18 (PTI) Half his salary spent on an auto from Gurgaon, Sukra Kundla has been standing in a queue outside the New Delhi Railway Station for two days just to register for a train ticket back home to Assam.
The queue is long and winding and just the first of the many before Kundla, who worked as a sweeper in Gurgaon, gets a seat on a train that will take him to his family in Kokrajhar. And that will not be from the New Delhi station but the Old Delhi one.
After he gets a registration number, he will be herded into a bus to go for a basic medical check at the Ambedkar Nagar stadium, a few kilometres away. That will involve falling in line as well. Finally, if all goes well, he will join another line -- hopefully the last – to enter the Old Delhi Railway station to board a homeward bound Shramik Special train started by the government on May 1. It’s all about lines and a weary, uncertain wait to get to the train. In between, the hundreds of people, pressed close together with no social spacing, queue up to get food being served by civil society members.
As the sun beats down on a hot May afternoon and hundreds of people move towards the counter in fits and starts, 30-year-old Kundla said his patience has not run out but his money just might before he meets his family.
“I am left with hardly Rs 2,500 now. I never thought that there would be these long queues and that I would have to wait for this long. I didn’t know I had to take a train from Old Delhi. I thought the tough part was reaching here,” he said.
Kundla, who earned Rs 6,000 in his job at a paying guest accommodation in Gurgaon, spent Rs 3,000 in travelling the 25 km-odd distance.
“I lost my job and don’t have a place to live anymore. That’s why I can’t go anywhere. My only hope is I will get a ticket. My children call me every day and ask when I will be home… “I have nothing to say. I can tell them anything only if I am certain of the day I’ll leave,” he added, all his belongings packed into a little strolley next to him. He had already spent two days waiting in line for his turn – spending the night right there on the pavement outside the station.
Lakhs of workers are making the journey home, courting death and injury as they hitch rides, walk or cycle. And lakhs of others like Kundra have been lucky enough to get to the station any which way but are still possibly days away from a seat on the train.
Many were not aware that the Shramik trains had stopped departing from the New Delhi railway station from May 13 and now leave from the stations in Old Delhi and Anand Vihar.
From May 1 till 16, Indian Railways had operated 1,074 Shramik Special trains, ferrying more than 14 lakh workers. Explaining the protocol, a senior police official said all passengers reaching the New Delhi Railway Station are registered and taken to the screening centre in Central Delhi's Ambedkar Nagar stadium in DTC buses.
“At the centre, all details and whereabouts of their travel destination are collected by the concerned officials. After thermal screening, paperwork related to their travel journey is done and travel tickets are issued to them by the government authorities as per due protocol,” he said.
“After all the procedure is completed, they are then taken from the concerned centre to the respective railway stations as per their destinations,” he added.
Not all are as patient or as stoic as Kundla.
Standing in line for a registration that will get him home to Samastipur in Bihar, 28-year-old Subodh is angry and upset. He said he had read about the government's Rs 20 lakh crore package and found it unfair.
“It was brought to support the rich and powerful. Not poor people like us,” said the daily wager who earned his living as a cart puller in the national capital.
“We heard the finance minister is announcing all kinds of loans. Now, who will take these loans? Only the rich, right? You think any bank will give us a loan. We just want to reach home before the corona virus reaches our body,” said the father of three.
Not far from him, also standing in the queue, is 40-year-old Dinesh Rai, who broke into sobs when asked about his family in Darbhanga in Bihar.
The 40-year-old rickshaw-puller was monosyllabic and non-communicative till he started talking about his family. And then it was like a dam had burst.
“Last night, I called my family to send me some money. They said even they have very little money left with them. Due to the lockdown I haven’t earned a single rupee in two months. Please help me reach my home,” he pleaded.
His sobs abated only when a civil society activist interrupted to say food was being distributed nearby. Rai left marking his place in the present queue.
It was time to get into another one. PTI MG AMP MIN MIN