When trains finally began to run again on May 1 after the nationwide lockdown that began on March 25, lakhs of migrant workers who had been trapped in Mumbai could finally get home again.

The patterns of their trips gives a broad sense of where Mumbai’s otherwise-invisible migrant workers hail from.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced the harsh lockdown at four hours notice to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, migrant workers in towns and cities across India were among the worst hurt.

As their jobs disappeared, hundreds of thousands of people were left without wages – and the ability to buy food or pay rent. A great exodus began towards their home villages. Since public transport was shut, lakhs set out on foot for their home states, hundreds of kilometres away.

In Mumbai, many migrant workers from within Maharashtra made it home by truck or other forms of private transport.

On May 1, Labour Day, the government of India announced that it would run Shramik Special trains to transport migrant labourers and other stranded people back home. Tickets could not be bought over the counter. Instead, workers had to register with the authorities and they would be summoned when place could be found for them on a train.

In the six weeks ending on June 13, when the Maharashtra government said there was no further demand for the trains, more than six lakh people left Mumbai from the four stations of Chhattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Kurla, Bandra and Borivali Terminus. They travelled on 426 trains to 18 states.

More than half of the passengers (373,287) and an equal proportion of trains (245) that left from Mumbai headed to Uttar Pradesh. About one-fifth of the passengers (131,283) and one-fifth of the trains (86) had Bihar as their destination.

Madhya Pradesh accounted for 39,956 passengers, West Bengal for 33,736 and Jharkhand 17,856. The 13 states of Tripura, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Gujrat, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Mizoram, Manipur, Kerala and Chhattisgarh accounted for 8% of the passengers.

Shramik trains departing from Mumbai

Destination state Number of trains Total number of passengers
Uttar Pradesh  245 373,287
Bihar 86 131,283
Madhya Pradesh 26 39,956
West Bengal 22 33,736
Jharkhand 12 17,856
Rajasthan 6 9,207
Odisha 6 8,441
Gujarat 4 5,321
Assam 4 4,862
Uttrakhand 3 4,600
Tamil Nadu 3 4,524
Manipur 2 3,231
Andhra Pradesh 2 2,676
Telangana 1 1,725
Tripura 1 1,344
Mizoram 1 1,300
Kerala 1 1,000
Chhattisgarh 1 750
Total 426 645,099

This work was supported by the NYUAD Center for Interacting Urban Networks (CITIES), funded by Tamkeen under the NYUAD Research Institute Award CG001 and by the Swiss Re Institute under the Quantum Cities™ initiative.