Covid-19: Fake news led to migrants’ exodus, says home ministry
The ministry of home affairs (MHA) told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that the exodus of migrant workers from the cities to the countryside in their home states was triggered by fake news on the duration of the lockdown imposed in the aftermath of the coronavirus disease pandemic (Covid-19).
Migrant workers were also concerned about the availability of basic necessities like food, drinking water, access to health services and shelter during the lockdown enforced on March 25, it said.
Responding to a query posed in the Lok Sabha, minister of state for home Nityanand Rai said the central government had been “fully conscious” of the concerns of migrant workers , and taken measures to ensure that during the “inevitable lockdown” that followed the outbreak of the pandemic, no citizen is deprived of the basic amenities of food, drinking water, medical facilities and so on.
Speculation, including in the media, on how long the lockdown would last and loss of livelihoods after the closure of factories and business establishments to curb the spread of the disease contributed to the reverse migration of workers to their home states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand. The total lockdown lasted 68 days before government started easing the restrictions.
An estimated 10.4 million migrants travelled back home during the lockdown, the government informed Parliament on Monday, saying it had no data on job losses among migrant workers since the outbreak.
To mitigate the problems faced by migrant workers, the Centre set up control rooms in the home ministry under the supervision of senior officers of the level of joint secretary and comprising representatives of key central ministries, MHA said on Tuesday.
“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,” Rai said in his written reply.
The minister of state added that the Centre also allowed state governments to tap the state disaster response fund (SDRF) for arranging temporary accommodation and providing food, clothing and medical care to migrant workers as well as the homeless.
“To augment the funds with the states, Central government released an advance Rs 11, 092 crores from the SDRF to the states on April 3, 2020,” he added.
To a query from Congress MP Manish Tewari on why the nationwide lockdown was imposed with a notice of just four hours, the minister said the decision was taken to forestall any mass movement. “Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease. Any mass movement of people would have spread the disease very fast amongst people in all parts of the country,” said Rai.
“By imposing the countrywide lockdown, India successfully blunted the aggressive spread of Covid-19,” he added.
The lockdown period also helped the nation reinforce its health infrastructure to tackle Covid-19, according to the minister, who cited efforts to sharply increase the number of dedicated isolation and intensive care unit (ICU) beds for patients of the viral infection, and develop local capabilities to manufacture personal protection equipment, masks and ventilators.
According to the government, the lockdown, by slowing the progress of the pandemic, has prevented an estimated 1.4 to 2.9 million Covid-19 cases and 37,000 to 78,000 deaths.