Fake WhatsApp messages spurred migrants’ exodus from Delhi to UP, say officials
The fake WhatsApp messages had numbers of Uttar Pradesh Bhawan control room in Delhi.
Fake messages widely circulated on social media could have played a key role in spurring the exodus of migrants from Delhi to Uttar Pradesh, said state government officials.
The arrival of thousands of migrants into the state threw the social distancing protocol to the winds and poses a big risk of community transmission of Covid-19 infections in rural areas.
One of such WhatsApp messages, circulated among the migrants in Delhi, said the Uttar Pradesh government was operating buses from Delhi border to ferry its residents stranded in the national capital to their home.
“Important Information: If anyone of you is from UP and is trapped in Delhi, the UP government has made arrangements to take you back home. Buses will be available from the Anand Vihar bus terminal also. Contact these numbers (011-26110151 and 011-26110155) to go back to Uttar Pradesh,” the message written in Hindi said.
Interestingly, the numbers given in the message belonged to the Uttar Pradesh Bhawan in Delhi, where the government has set up a control room to help any UP resident in a coronavirus related emergency.
UP Bhawan manager Rajesh Chaube said, “The WhatsApp messages were fake and it added fuel to fire. The UP Bhawan’s phone numbers mentioned in it are of the control room that has been set up here, but it is not meant for enquiring about bus operations.” Chaubey said hundreds of calls landed on these numbers for three days, all enquiring about buses.
However, desperate to leave anyhow, most migrants did not even bother to dial the numbers given in the message and all started reaching the Anand Vihar bus station and other locations.
“On Friday, I received a WhatsApp message on my mobile, that said buses would be available at Anand Vihar to ferry us to our home in UP and when I informed many of my friends, they said that they, too, had received a similar message,” said Anuj, a resident of a village in Kasganj district.
Anuj, who works and stays in a hotel in Delhi’s Dariyaganj area, started packing up after receiving the message and set out on foot for the Anand Vihar bus station.
“Luckily, I got a city bus that dropped me at Anand Vihar only to find out that there were no buses plying to UP,” he said.
He claimed thousands of people started leaving after they got the WhatsApp message that was also shared on Facebook.
An investigation, however, revealed that the circulated messages were fake because no such announcement was made by the UP State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) or the UP government.
“A mischief appears to have been played to misinform gullible migrants because we never issued such appeals through any social media platform,” UPSRTC managing director, Ghaziabad, AK Singh said.
He said it was only after thousands of migrants swarmed Anand Vihar, Kaushambi and Lal Kuan bus stations in Delhi that the government asked UPSRTC on Friday to evacuate all of them.
Some also alleged that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi not only operated city buses despite the lockdown but also offered migrants a free ride to UP borders.
Accusing the Delhi government of a conspiracy to get rid of UP’s migrant workers by spreading rumours, Delhi BJP leader Kapil Mishra even released a video in which a vehicle is seen making an announcement in the night that buses were being operated from Delhi borders for UP, though AAP leaders, including Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, refuted all such charges through tweets.
Sources said the central government’s announcement of relief measures for three months also triggered fear that the lockdown might get extended beyond the current three weeks.
“Rumours about buses being operated for them from UP borders only facilitated the mass exodus. Now, identifying and putting all such migrants in quarantine in their villages has emerged as a big challenge for the UP government,” officials pointed out.