Lucknow: On Tuesday afternoon, the entire country was in for a rude shock when breaking the lockdown, hundreds of migrant labourers in Mumbai thronged to Bandra railway station believing on a rumour that the trains were arranged to take them hometown. They were lathicharged and slapped with FIRs for allegedly breaking the lockdown amid corona epidemic and the entire episode put the Uddhav Thackeray government of Maharashtra on back foot.
However, a day before this, on Monday, the Uttar Pradesh government allegedly arranged over 20 buses to ferry more than 900 pilgrims from south India back to their hometowns. They were stuck in Varanasi since 24 March when the 21-day pan-India lockdown was imposed to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19. On Tuesday, the lockdown was extended till 3rd May since the virus has spread further.
The pilgrims belonged to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
“Most of the buses have now reached their destination. One was stopped on the way briefly in Hingoli Maharashtra, but later got clearance,” Kaushal Raj Sharma, district magistrate of Varanasi told FPJ. He insisted that there were 700-800 pilgrims, not 900 as suggested.
When asked how the buses were arranged in the lockdown, Sharma claimed, “The people who were stuck here had approached their respective member of parliaments. They approached the Centre and then we arranged the travel.”
He also insisted, “All pilgrims were put through testing before boarding the buses. Yet, they have been asked to be in quarantine for 3-4 days even after reaching home.”
When asked if all the passengers were put through the RTPCR (Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction) test, the DM said, “They were screened through thermal scanner. The RTPCR test is required for those who have any symptoms for the disease. None of them had any.”
“They had been staying in different ashrams and guest houses popular among devotees of southern states. Their dispatch was supervised by the police officers”, sources said.
Sources claimed that pilgrims had to shell out Rs 4,000 for the ticket. Some pilgrims are still stuck in ashrams and are unable to afford this amount.