New Delhi: The large-scale migrant exodus during the Covid-19 lockdown was triggered by panic created by fake news about its duration, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told the Lok Sabha Tuesday.
The MHA was replying to an unstarred question from Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mala Roy, who sought the reason why thousands of labourers started walking home from big cities as soon as the lockdown kicked in.
“The migration of large number of migrant workers was triggered by panic created by fake news regarding duration of lockdown, and people, especially migrant labourers, were worried about adequate supply of basic necessities like food, drinking water, health services and shelter,” Minister of State Nityanand Rai said.
The minister added that the central government maintains no database on the number of migrants who died on the road while trying to reach their home state during the lockdown.
However, he said “the central government… took all necessary measures to ensure that during the period of the inevitable lockdown, no citizen should be deprived of basic amenities of food, drinking water, medical facilities etc”.
On Monday, Union Minister of Labour and Employment Santosh Kumar Gangwar had informed Parliament that the exodus saw over one crore migrant workers return to their native states.
‘Govt took various measures’
When the nationwide lockdown kicked in 25 March, lakhs of migrant labourers found themselves without any means for sustenance. The exodus earned the Modi government a lot of flak, and it was accused of failing to take migrant workers into account before announcing the lockdown.
Detailing the steps taken by the central government to provide relief to the workers, Rai said it had allowed states to use the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) on 28 March to make provisions for temporary accommodation, food, clothing, medical care, etc for homeless people as well as migrant labourers.
“To augment the funds with the states, the central government released an advance Rs 11,092 crores from the SDRF to states on 3 April 2020,” he said in his written reply.
On another query about the total number of migrant workers who died while returning to their home states, the minister said such data is not centrally maintained.
To Roy’s question about steps taken to protect migrant labourers before the lockdown was announced, Rai said, in order “to contain the spread of Covid-19” in the country, “the central government took various measures, considered essential for the safety of people including migrant workers”.
“From 21 March 2020 onwards, control room operations in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) were expanded by making their functioning 24*7 under the supervision of senior officers of the level of joint secretaries along with the representatives of key central ministries,” he added.
“These control rooms, inter alia, attended to the grievances of stranded persons including migrant workers and promptly resolved these grievances relating to food, transport, shelter, etc. States and union territories were also advised to set up control rooms with helplines and to appoint nodal officers.”