The Centre had provided adequate facilities for migrant labourers to be sent back home but a few of them lost patience and started walking on the roads, union home minister Amit Shah said on Monday.
In an exclusive interview to CNN-News18, Shah said, "Some people lost patience and started walking on the roads. Even then we started buses and transported them to railway stations from where they were safely taken to their villages."
The former BJP chief admitted that "a lot of people had to face troubles" and there were incidents that happened for ‘5-6 days’ that should not have happened. He said the government is "sensitive towards them."
With no way to survive in the cities after the lockdown brought all work to a halt, and India's vast railway network shut down, lakhs of migrant workers had decision to walk thousands of kilometres back to their rural homes. Several had died along the way, in accidents or due to hunger or exhaustion.
The Centre had last month decided to run special trains, but that has not ended the woes of the migrants, as 80 died on board these trains. The Railways is trying to ascertain if these were due to Covid-19, co-morbidity or hunger and exhaustion.
Asked whether the government should have given longer than four hours of notice before imposing a nationwide lockdown and transported the migrants earlier, Shah said that was a big possibility of stampedes if people rushed home before the lockdown.
He also said the government wanted to strengthen the healthcare facilities in states before sending migrant workers back, and that the government had used the lockdown period for the purpose.
“Health facilities were not ready by then, states were also not ready, quarantine facilities were not in place by then. We got all of this ready in 2 months."
He also said that it will be wrong to say that facilities have not been provided to migrant workers. "This is why more than a crore migrant labourers have reached home. However, it is true that some incidents happened that should not have. For 5-6 days it happened. After which we provided facilities and people started understanding it."
The home minister also highlighted the steps that the government had taken to address the issued faced by migrant workers in the country. He said that ever since the lockdown, states have setup camps and made food available for them. "The Centre has transferred Rs 11,000 crore to the states for this purpose. May 1 onwards we started trains too. April 20 onwards we started bus services. 41 lakh migrant workers were sent home by buses and 55 lakh were sent home in trains." he added.
He also wished to end the controversy that has been raging about the payment of the fare of transporting migrant workers in trains. "Let me say categorically that 85% of the train fare has been paid by Railways and the rest 15% has been paid by the states."
Shah said that apart from providing help in kind - food, transportation and medical facilities - the government has also been transferring money directly into the accounts of migrant workers through the Direct Benefit Scheme.