On Monday, within 24 hours of its buses rolling out of various Haryana cities to bring back stranded migrant workers to their hometowns, the Uttar Pradesh government’s Maharashtra helplines saw a staggering number of calls for evacuation. Helpline operators received 97,754 calls on Monday, said Ranjan Kumar, the state’s nodal officer for Maharashtra.

The numbers from Maharashtra could run to 10 lakh if factories do not open and migrant workers don’t get their jobs back, according to UP officials. This ballpark figure is based on the surge in helpline calls, and accounts of callers on the number of people—colleagues, acquaintances, friends and family-—who also need transportation to their hometowns. Also, on the capacity of shelter homes, assessments of local administrations and state coordination groups, and estimates shared by callers who live in rented houses.

Vehicles damaged after construction labourers went on the rampage in Surat to push their demand for sending them back to their native states

‘Delhi-NCR, Maha are areas of big concern’

On Tuesday, the UP government officially asked all states to share data on people from UP who are staying at shelter homes and quarantine facilities for over 14 days and have tested negative for Covid-19, so that they can be brought back to the state.

Because of the numbers involved, evacuating migrant workers—an enormous logistical challenge—isn’t likely to start in a hurry. A senior state government official said, “Most other states are not a big concern, including Tamil Nadu that has few thousand stranded migrant workers from UP and Bihar. Delhi-NCR and Maharashtra are the big concern areas and need strategic planning.”

Officials said that over the last week, the nature of calls has changed drastically, from enquiries about ration and food packets, reporting flu symptoms and complaining about living conditions or landlords asking for rent to, “Can I return home?” When the calls are received, people are asked about their location and number of people who will be travelling with the caller. This helps draw up estimates.

In Maharashtra, where the state government estimates 6 lakh migrant workers from UP are in Mumbai itself, those from other regions have added to the number dialling the helplines. “The calls have continuously been increasing. All inputs and reports are sent to the high-powered Maharashtra coordination group we have formed with officials from both states,” said Kumar.