Coronavirus Update: Food, shelter in government’s aid plan for migrants amid lockdown

Updated on Mar 28, 2020 07:10 AM IST

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has already issued an advisory to all states to make arrangements for the stranded workers. Social and religious groups are also distributing food to the migrants, daily wagers, and poor.

Homeless persons and stranded migrant workers queue up to receive food in designated spots maintaining social distancing at Ramakrishna Ashram, New Delhi on Friday, March 27, 2020.(Vipin Kumar / HT Photo)
Homeless persons and stranded migrant workers queue up to receive food in designated spots maintaining social distancing at Ramakrishna Ashram, New Delhi on Friday, March 27, 2020.(Vipin Kumar / HT Photo)
New Delhi | ByHT Correspondents

The government is working on a way to help the tens of thousands of migrant workers, some with their families in tow, walking back home after the national lockdown enforced on Wednesday, get to their destination or, at the least, to also ensure they get food and shelter, according to government officials familiar with the matter.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has already issued an advisory to all states to make arrangements for the stranded workers: “States/UTs need to explore measures by involving various agencies, including NGOs, to provide food and shelter with basic amenities like clean drinking water, sanitation,” this said.

Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, a member of Parliament from Bihar to which many of the migrants are headed, said that discussions are on at the highest level of government to help these men and women. “The government is alive to their situation. I also appeal to all civil society members to rise up and make provisions for such people,’’ he added.

India’s social and religious organisations have started distributing food to the migrants, daily wagers, and the poor, even as the state governments have opened up community kitchens and shelter homes to serve them.

“Our project is aimed at providing food to the needy without compromising the restrictions laid out. Our student police cadets and many organisations are helping us in this,” said Kerala’s inspector general of police, P Vijayan. Kerala was among the first states to announce community kitchens and several organisations including the police are engaged in distributing food.

In Punjab, gurudwaras have taken a lead in providing food and Punjab police personnel are engaged in distributing food packets. “In the past two days, policemen have distributed 1.5 lakh food packets,” said a Punjab police statement, adding that milk and dry rations are also being handed out.

The Madhya Pradesh government has ordered that funds provided under Panch Parmeshwar scheme should be used to provide food and accommodation to the needy. “Food packets will be distributed at Rain baseras (night shelter homes),” CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan said.

While these will benefit the homeless and poor in the state, they are also expected to help stranded migrant workers.

The Bihar government on Thursday sanctioned Rs 100 crore from the CM Relief Fund to provide food and shelter for daily wage earners, including those from outside the state, who have been stranded in the state capital and other Bihar cities in the wake of countrywide lock-down.

In Kolkata, community kitchens are providing food to street dwellers and poor people living in the 27-night shelters run by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

The Chhattisgarh government is providing food packets to the homeless and poor people in the state in all 28 districts with the help of police.

n the north-eastern states, the police in Guwahati, Assam, distributed food in Fancy Bazar area of the city with the help of a local gurudwara and NGO. The Tripura government started providing free food twice a day through community kitchens in urban areas from Thursday.

Union minister Prasad said he has spoken to Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, and several district magistrates in Bihar to make special arrangements for the migrant workers. A large section of the migrants are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and have been walking from the national capital or metro cities in other states to their villages.

“I am happy that he (Adityanath) has promised to look into it, and that Uttar Pradesh will open up its night shelters so that they can be used by the migrants,’’ Prasad said, adding that district authorities in Bihar have assured him that workers would at least be fed.

An official in the labour ministry said on condition of anonymity that some changes in some of the lockdown restrictions to help migrant workers are expected in the next couple of days. “There are states like UP and Bihar who are impacted much more by this problem than others. So any plan for the workers will have to keep in mind the local conditions,’’ said the official who asked not to be named. “We don’t want them (migrant labourers) to panic. We want them to know that we are working at a solution.’’

The Centre has been in touch with chief secretaries of several states to resolve the issue, and feedback has also been sought from the state transport departments, this person added.

According to the 2011 Census, about 13 million of the total 54 million migrants moved to other states for economic reasons such as work, employment or business.

More than half of these 13 million migrated out of just three states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. Also, more than half of the migrants move to just four states – Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat and Karnataka – primarily in search of work in cities such as Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru.

Interestingly, states didn’t wait for the MHA advisory before responding to the hordes that were seen on highways, attempting the long walk home amidst shut shops and often hostile police authorities..

States like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Punjab have issued directions to local District Magistrates to provide transportation arrangements for migrants seen walking on the roads. Gautam Budhh Nagar’s district magistrate on Friday provided pick-up trucks to migrants walking along the Noida-Greater-Noida expressway.

On Thursday Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that his government will coordinate with other states and bear the expenses of migrant workers, who might have been stranded there owing to the three-week-long nationwide lockdown.

Maharashtra police on Thursday found more than 300 migrant workers crammed inside two container trucks which were carrying essential commodities from Telangana to Rajasthan highlighting the magnitude of the crisis.

“Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has been coordinating virtually with his counterparts in the country to help out-of-State workers stranded in Maharashtra,” state cabinet minister Aaditya Thackeray tweeted Friday.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh,Jharkhand chief minister Hemant Soren and West Bengal chief minister too reached out to the Maharashtra government to help rescue to rescue migrant workers and others from their respective states stranded in the Western state.

“Have written to Home Minister Amit Shah Ji and & Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray to facilitate the evacuation of devotees stranded at Nanded Sahib Gurdwara. The pilgrims have been stranded there for long & we owe them safe return to their homes & families,” Singh tweeted Wednesday.

Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren sought help from the Maharashtra government to rescue migrant workers stuck in Navi Mumbai. West Bengal too has sought help to rescue 800 labourers stuck in Maharashtra.

“CM Uddhav Thackeray ji has asked all District Collectors to find and reach out to all those from other states- pilgrims, labour etc, stuck in Maharashtra due to lock down and ensure that they are looked after by Maharashtra…this is a time when the federal structures are being tested on compassion. I’m glad all CMs are also connecting to seal the borders, open the hearts and help people,” Aaditya Thackery tweeted Thursday.

As the government takes the final call, private airlines also reached out to the ministry of civil aviation offering their help. “GoAir stands with the nation and has offered its assistance to the Government in whatever way is useful, including helping our fellow Indian migrant workers get home, as we navigate this unprecedented crisis together, “Go Air said in a statement.

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