Bhupendra Kanojia, who works as a construction worker in Mahim, is desperate to return to his hometown in Baliya, Uttar Pradesh. However, he is only left with Rs 450 after he paid for a medical certificate for him and his younger brother Bhuvendra.
Kanojia filed an application to return home with the local police in Dharavi, but the mandatory medical certificate cost him Rs 350 each. The 41-year-old daily wager was not even paid his salary for the entire month of March and had just Rs 2,500 when the lockdown began. Of the last Rs 1,150 left with him, Rs 700 was spent on the medical certificate for him and his brother, Kanojia claimed.
Advocate Rajendra Korde, president of Dharavi Redevelopment Committee and secretary of Shetkari Kamgar Paksha, has written to the chief minister of Maharashtra and collectors office alleging that, desperate to go home, migrant labourers are being exploited. "Their applications are not being accepted unless they fill the application with the names of a minimum of 25 people. Also, doctors across the city are charging anywhere between Rs 100 to 500 per head for a medical certificate. Facing a loss of income these labourers are being ripped off their last saved cash too."
Korde said that even if there are 25 people to be screened by a doctor, he will just sign one time on a form. Korde also alleged that, at many places, doctors are just looking at people and signing the medical certificate forms without any screening.
RTI activist Anil Galgali too, has alleged that many doctors are charging exorbitant sums to provide medical certificates, which is mandatory to allow people to travel from Maharashtra to their hometown. Galgali has demanded action against such doctors.
"Private doctors are charging anything between Rs 500 to Rs 4,500 from the poor and needy people in the name of issuing fitness/medical certificates,” said Galgali in his statement.
According to him, the lockdown has caused financial hardships to people and it is unfair to force them to pay to get a certificate. He too, has written a letter to the Maharashtra CM, Home Minister and Police Department demanding that the government should conduct free health checkups for the people willing to go to their hometown.
Migrants in Maharashtra have to pay for their own way home. According to the government's rule, they have to organise themselves into a group of 25 to 30 and apply to the police or collector and make their own travel arrangements up to the train and bus stations.
With no clarity over the departure of trains for migrants from Mumbai, road journeys towards their hometown are currently the only option. Bus operators have been accepting bulk booking of a minimum of 25 people in 60 seater buses, owing to social distancing norms.
Hence, the police have been entertaining only those who are approaching them in a group of 25 people, alleged Korde. "This means a large number of migrants, who were on daily wages with no earnings during the lockdown, will not be able to make the journey unless they pay Rs 200 to Rs 500 per head for the medical certificate."
Shramik special trains will run from Nashik, Nagpur, Amravati (Rural) and MMR outskirts. Meanwhile, Shramik special train departures have picked up in Maharashtra. Three trains departed on Sunday, one each from Vasai and Bhiwandi to Gorakhpur carrying 1200 passengers. The third one departed from Nagpur to Lucknow on Sunday night with 927 passengers.
Despite the chances being slim, migrants thronged to police stations and local general practitioners clinics in large numbers across Mumbai and its outskirts to fill their applications and get a medical certificate. Many even complained that the procedure was very cumbersome, as the application requires several documents, including Aadhar card, which needs to be photocopied. "I had a very hard time getting a photocopy. It took me an entire day to trace a photocopy shop that was open. There is a huge queue outside the doctor's clinic. People start from morning 6am to 6.30 am," said Gyan Prakash Singh from Jaunpur.