Many truck drivers along National Highway (NH) 44 in Medchal, at the outskirts of Hyderabad, are transporting scores of migrant workers who are leaving the city each day and attempting to head back home. With no transport services and uncertainty on when they will get a special train or bus, migrant workers are willing to pay the fare charged by the truck drivers to get home.
With the lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 in place for close to two months now, many migrant workers say that they have to return home in time for agricultural work before the monsoon begins. Many simply miss home and their families, and are tired of staying in cramped spaces at construction sites across the city.
Others allege that while the contractors were ordered to look after their welfare by the state government, this was not being done.
"I unloaded my goods in Hyderabad and as I was returning, I saw a lot of migrant workers here, so I just stopped to pick a few of them up. I'm going till Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh and there are people who will get down on the way in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh," says Om Prakash, a truck driver.
The drivers charge between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 per head, based on the distance that the migrant worker has to travel. Some workers say that they are willing to pay as it is still better than walking in the hot sun.
Pavan Kumar, a migrant worker from Rajasthan who boarded a truck at Tirupati, says, "I don't mind that the truck driver is taking money. They have to pay for diesel and also pay fines if the police decides to stop the vehicle. They are taking a risk for us."
"I began my journey in Chennai. I have crossed Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and have now come here. The truck is going till Haryana," says Abid, the driver of the vehicle in which Pavan is travelling.
However, not all the workers can afford to pay the charges.
"We are from Chhattisgarh and we were working at Lingampally in Hyderabad. 13 of us started walking and reached here. Now there are 25 of us and we want to go home, but no driver is agreeing to take us below Rs 1,000 per head. We don't have that much money. We just have enough to arrange for our food and water," says one migrant worker.
"If someone agrees for Rs 500 per head, we will be able to go home by truck. Otherwise, we will cover a part of the distance by truck and walk for the remaining journey," he adds.
Some truck drivers say that they are charging people whatever they can afford to give.
"We understand the pain of staying away from home as we are constantly on the road. People should be able to see their families, and I just want to help them," says Salman, a driver from Prayagraj.
Arjun, another driver from Uttar Pradesh, says, "Many are dying to see their families. I'm charging what they can give. We will anyway be returning empty. At least this way, I can help a few people."
Many migrant workers claim that they are opting for trucks because though the state government has started Shramik trains for them, their turn is yet to come.
18-year-old Sharukh is eating a meal provided by volunteers in a tent set up by them. He is quite clear about why he's started the long journey back home.
"We just want to head home. We are tired of living here and hoping that they will call us and we will catch the train. The state government was sending lots of people initially, but that has stopped now. We are just planning to either climb on a truck or walk, but we want to go home," he says.