Authorities in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have auctioned 5,400 bicycles abandoned by desperate migrant labourers trying to reach their homes during the sudden coronavirus lockdown in 2020.
Tens of millions of workers across India were rendered jobless and stranded in big cities and towns after Prime Minister Narendra Modi rushed to impose a nationwide curfew to stop the spread of Covid-19 infection in March of that year.
Many of the workers and their families walked or cycled for hundreds of miles in blistering heat to return to their homes as public and private transport remained off the roads.
About 20,000 migrant workers had reached the Saharanpur district, a city considered as a gateway to neighbouring states of Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, on their bikes but were stopped for quarantine at government-run shelters before being driven to their homes in buses.
While nearly 15,000 of them returned to collect their bikes, authorities said about 5,400 of the bicycles were not collected.
As the bikes were rusting, the district administration auctioned the bikes for more than two million rupees ($27,000).
Akhilesh Singh, a district magistrate, said migrant workers had been called many times to come and claim their bikes.
"Many of them refused while some expressed helplessness in doing it as travel expenses were more than the cost of the bicycles," he said.
Mr Singh said authorities did not keep the auction money, which was instead submitted to the government treasury to be transferred to the bank accounts of the workers who owned the bicycles.
“The cycles were sold only to clear the premises in which they were parked,” he said. "We will call the migrants again and ask them for their bank account details. We will send money to their accounts."