Although the state government’s latest restrictions aimed at breaking the spread of Covid-19 infections stop short of a full lockdown, migrant workers said the measures are similar to last year’s, and therefore, would affect their wages.
Many workers said they are mulling returning home. Anticipating a lockdown, some began leaving the city over the past two days.
Some said they wanted to leave quickly as they feared that train services could be stopped like last year.
Unlike last year, at the stations for long-distance trains, no massive crowds were seen. In 2020, tens of thousands of migrant workers gathered at the stations trying to catch the trains for Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
At Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT), Kurla, from where trains for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar depart, officials said there was a rise in number of passengers in the past two days.
On Sunday night, while the majority of the passengers had advance bookings for their destination, a few reached the station after hearing Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s announcement on fresh restrictions.
Sonu Patel, a ready mix concrete vehicle driver from Mahape, Turbhe, reached LTT amid new restrictions. Last year, after nationwide lockdown, Patel and his other colleagues walked to UP.
“Last year, I reached my home in Jaunpur on feet. This time, I don’t want to be stuck in a similar situation. The vehicle’s owner told us that there will be no further work as new restrictions have been imposed by the government. I don’t have work now. It’s better to leave before they stop the trains again,” said Patel.
A guard from Railway Protection Force (RPF) posted at LTT for crowd management said they were witnessing an increase in number of passengers over the past two days. However, the crowd is a fraction of what it was during the nationwide lockdown last year.
Sohanlaal, another migrant worker from UP’s Gonda district, said they neither have any money nor work, so they had decided to leave the city. Sohan Lal and his two friends reached LTT to take Kushinagar Express (LTT to Gorakhpur) to reach their hometown.
“We came back in February, hoping that we would get some work. But in the past two months, Covid-19 cases went up and we could not find any work. With new restrictions imposed, we will not get any work. We don’t have the money to survive here. In the village, we can earn through farming,” said Sohanlaal, who does odd jobs and lives in Kurla, near Kalpana Talkies.
Mustafa Shah, a painter who lives in Malvani, said he had two contracts of painting homes but both were kept on hold after the government announced the new restrictions on Sunday. “Customers are scared to allow painters inside their home. With these restrictions, our daily wages will be affected,” he added.
Shah had returned home to Bihar last June. After finding no work for two months, he came back to Mumbai. His work had picked up pace this year before Covid-19 cases started rising again.
Officials from the Central and Western Railway said they have neither noticed an uptick in advance booking nor unusual crowd at stations to board long-distance trains on Sunday night.
“Since the pandemic began, we started advance booking system even for second class compartment to reduce crowding. People will need to book tickets in advance to board a train,” a Central Railway official said.
Travellers can enter platforms only if they have valid tickets.
Akhilesh Rao, who works in Ambujwadi for NGO Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao, said he is getting panic calls from migrant labourers who enquire if they should return home.
“The government has not announced full lockdown yet, but the restrictions will force several out of jobs,” he said.
Govandi resident Jameela Shahul said, “We had a meeting in slum today. A lot of us don’t want to go back to our villages because there is no work there. Labourers want the government to provide meals for them if everything is shut down.”
Mahesh Vaishya (32), a migrant labourer from UP who works as vegetable vendor in Dadar (East) market, said: “This night curfew has hit our business as many customers buy vegetables between 8 pm and 9 pm. For eight months, my stall was closed and I restarted the business just three months ago. I have a wife and three children to feed.” Vaishya, a native of Pratapgad, stays in a slum in Khar.
In Bandra East slum, Khalid Shaikh runs a workshop where women’s attires are made. His three labourers went home in past one week due to fear of a possible lockdown. Shaikh has five labourers left.
“If garment shops are shut, my workshop will be shut too. Then I can’t pay my workers. The government has indirectly implemented another lockdown,” he added.