AGENCIES, New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Mar 30 had sought a report from the government on steps taken about the unprecedented inter-state movement of migrant workers during the 21-day national lockdown on account of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In response, the Centre informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it estimated 500,000-600,000 migrants had reached their villages on foot during the lockdown. It also claimed that, such an event happened despite measures to take care of their needs was very much in place.
Concerns have been raised over the large movement of migrant workers in the past few days, from cities to villages, which not only defeated the purpose of the lock down, but had the potential to spread the deadly virus to the rural population.
The submission was made by Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla to the apex. The government also blamed fake news and disinformation that caused panic amongst the jobless migrants. “Unfortunately, due to some fake and or misleading news or social media messages, a panic was created. There are approximately 44 million who have migrated for purpose of work of employment, according to Census 2011. The present barefoot migration, which has taken place, consists of – on a very rough estimate – 500,000-600,000 people across the country,” Bhalla told the apex court.
Bhalla also defended the government’s position by saying that the Centre had announced a Rs1.7 trillion financial package for “every poor person”, including migrant workers, to deal with the impact of the coronavirus. “Their daily needs were being taken care of wherever they were working and the daily needs of their family members was being taken care of at their respective villages,” the statement said.
Ever since a 21-day nationwide lockdown was imposed on Mar 25, masses of unemployed workers in the unorganised sector had started leaving for their villages, leading to a reverse migration. All businesses were closed and the workers were unable to pay for their basic needs related to house rent and food, leading to no choice but return home. In the absence of transportation, they undertook their journeys on foot to reach their villages in harsh conditions even leading to instances of deaths in some cases.