Now, Modi government says fake news forced migrants to walk
Taking apathetic view toward migrant crisis once again, the government told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that panic, sparked by fake news, triggered the exodus of poor, jobless, and hungry laborers who walked thousands of kilometers to their homes. This statement came after the government denied having information on how many workers died en route, saying in the absence of data, there's no question of compensation.
Fake news about inadequate food, water, sparked migrants' exodus
Yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government was asked two separate queries. TMC member Mala Roy asked why migrants were forced to walk for thousands of kilometers. Blaming misinformation, MoS (Home) Nityanand Rai said, "People, especially migrant laborers, were worried about an adequate supply of basic necessities like food, drinking water, health services, and shelter." This panic forced them to take difficult journeys.
But government took steps to help migrants, said minister
"However, Central government was conscious of this, and took all the 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.," Rai said on Monsoon Session's second day.
Congress wondered why a short notice for lockdown was given
Thereafter, Congress MP Manish Tewari asked why only a four-hour notice was given for the lockdown. To recall, India went into a complete lockdown on March 25 to curtail the coronavirus transmission. In a written reply, Rai said various measures, like curbs on international travel, advisories for the public, setting up quarantine facilities, etc., were taken after the outbreak on January 7, 2020.
Lockdown was imposed considering various factors, including global experience: Minister
Rai added that any movement of masses would have emboldened the disease's spread. So considering the experience in other countries and various containment measures, the lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020, he added. The BJP minister said many states and Union Territories had announced partial curbs between March 16 and 23 itself, based on their assessment of the problem.
Centre said it infused funds to let states help workers
Rai further said that the federal government permitted states to put the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) to use on March 24 itself. This fund was meant to provide temporary accommodation, food, clothing, and medical care to the laborers. He also claimed the Centre released an advance Rs. 11,092 crore from SDRFs on April 3. On migrants' deaths, he reiterated the Centre's earlier position.
Opposition ripped into Centre over its response to the crisis
Meanwhile, the government's response to the crisis, which tore apart the nation's conscience, didn't find many takers in the opposition. On Monday's response, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi asked, "If you didn't count, does that mean no one died." CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury said the government's response was shameful and irresponsible, whereas Kerala's Finance Minister suggested Centre to acknowledge at least the tentative deaths.
The inhumane crisis played out on Indian highways
The exodus, one of the worst episodes of India's modern history, was triggered after the lockdown shut everything. Left with no money, the laborers walked toward their homes. Some hitched rides on highways, but it proved risky; some died due to unforgiving heat. The government ran Sharmik Special Trains from May, but due to poor arrangements, at least 80 migrants died in Railway's premises.