Mumbai: Call it reverse migration or summer rush but the fact remains that people are leaving the city in droves – by road and rail. Thousands are leaving Mumbai and its metropolitan region on private buses while the Railways has been running special trains on the trot, to accommodate people. But something extraordinary happened on Indian Railways, the likes of which were not seen even last year when there was massive migration across the country.
On April 13, when Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appealed to people to stay home and observe ‘Janata Curfew’, the intelligence unit of Indian Railways received information about large-scale migrant movement towards the railway station. And it was not just those who had booked train tickets to head back home but even those without or holding waitlisted tickets. In the last three days, the Central Railway (CR) authorities have operated six such special trains, ferrying 9,000 extra passengers who either had waitlisted tickets or hadn’t bought any tickets but had come to the station with luggage.
This movement was in the direction of the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) at Kurla and by 10pm, there were well over 700-odd people coming to the terminus, eager to board any train to their hometown. The CR opened up its Passenger Reservation System late at night and asked these migrants to buy tickets, after which they were allowed to board trains.
Until 1am there were at least five regular summer special trains scheduled, apart from the regular trains. But the railways were not prepared for this surging crowd without valid tickets. “The situation could have gone out of hand. We decided to bring in extra coaches that were kept as standby and arranged a new special train between 1am and 5am for Bihar,” said a CR official, on condition of anonymity.
Each train can carry 1,500 passengers, seated; and these extra crowds were taken care of. Sources said that the migrants mainly complained about their fear of trains being stopped altogether, like last year. With the curbs announced by the Maharashtra government on Tuesday, this fear continues to persist.
On Wednesday morning, a similar decision was taken, and a train to Uttar Pradesh left Kurla LTT at around 9.30am as crowds surged. “I would rather go home and work in the fields rather than stay here and pay rent without having any work,” said Ram Singh, a carpenter who resides in Poisar.
Inter and intra-state traffic also went up exponentially in the last 2-3 days. On Wednesday, the number of migrants taking buses went up 5-6 times as compared to the number last week. This however, also led to doubling of fares on these routes—destinations in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar-- to as high as Rs 4,000 per passenger.
“We got bookings for 800-odd buses for Wednesday from parts of Mumbai to different states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal,” said a bus operator on condition of anonymity. Within the state, there are buses plying to Solapur, Osmanabad, Aurangabad, Beed and Kolhapur, from where people had come in search of work last year.
Boarding points are at Borivli, Bandra, Andheri, Chembur, Sion, Kurla and Dadar. On a regular day, there are bookings for 100-150 buses. Operators claim there have been instances when migrants who struggle to get rail tickets head to the nearest bus travel operator for booking tickets even if it means paying higher fares. At present, there are around 3,000-odd buses plying inter-state, compared to the 10,000-15,000 in February.