Unsure of finding work, food or shelter, hundreds of migrant workers across the country began their journey home on foot after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a nationwide 21-day lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
Following heavy criticism for not having factored in this vulnerable section of the population, while announcing the lockdown, the Union and state governments have announced a slew of measures to alleviate the problems faced by the migrant workers.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on Friday asked all state governments and Union Territories to stop the exodus of migrant workers and issued an advisory asking them to make arrangements for providing food and shelter to migrant agricultural labourers, industrial workers and other unorganised sector workers stranded in their states.
The MHA suggested that states and UTs could enlist the help of various agencies, including NGOs, to provide food, shelter and basic amenities like clean drinking water and sanitation facilities to the unorganised sector workers, in particular, the migrant workers.
The home ministry also advised states and UTs to ensure that students and working women from other states are allowed to continue in their existing accommodation.
The MHA also said that states must ensure that hotels, rented accommodations, hostels, etc, continue to remain functional and delivery of essential items is streamlined, so that students and working women hostel inmates, etc, are allowed to continue in existing facilities, while observing precautions.
The guidelines added that while ensuring the supply of essential goods and services, the states must also ensure that the lockdown is followed strictly.
On Saturday, the MHA directed the states and UTs to provide essential services to migrant labourers and the homeless poor from the State Disaster Relief Fund.
Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari asked the Chairman of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and toll operators across national highways to provide food, water and other necessary support to migrant workers.
"I have advised Chairman NHAI and Highway Concessioners/Toll operators to consider providing food, water or any kind of support to migrant workers/citizens who are trying to reach to their respective native places. At this time of crisis we have to be compassionate towards our fellow citizens," he said.
Kerala opens relief camps
State governments also announced various measures to deal with the crisis. While some states arranged transport services for labourers stranded in other states, some other states made arrangements for relief camps and provision of essential facilities.
The Kerala government on Friday announced that it has opened 4,603 relief camps for approximately 1,44,145 migrant workers, who are officially called as guest workers in the state, said a report in LiveMint.
Food, masks, soaps and sanitisers have been made available in the camps, the report quotes Kerala chief minister Pimarayi Vijayan as saying.
The chief minister added that another 35 camps had been set up for 1,545 homeless and destitute people and that the government would take over more educational institutions to set up similar facilitates.
The chief minister further said that brochures, leaflets and short videos in Hindi, Oriya and Bengali were being distributed among the migrant workers to create awareness and health workers who can speak Hindi were being deployed on the streets for this purpose.
"It is not complete. Workers are still in deplorable conditions in many places. We are seeing this seriously. The concerned district collectors should take it as an individual responsibility. Labour department can also fruitfully intervene. Local city governments can coordinate all of these. In this way, all systems should prepare the required assistance for them," the report quoted him as saying.
Gujarat govt asks districts to provide food, shelter to migrant workers
In Gujarat, where the state government had earlier arranged public transport to facilitate the return of migrant workers to Rajasthan and tribal areas of the state, authorities on Friday said migrant labourers would be given food and accommodation but won't be allowed to travel to their villages during the 21-day lockdown.
"It has been decided that no migrant labourer will be allowed to leave on foot. District administrations have been asked to make arrangements for their food and accommodation. A special helpline number, 1077, has been set up for migrant workers to contact for help," PTI quoted Ashwini Kumar, secretary in the chief minister's office as saying.
Meanwhile, Valsad Collector CR Kharsan said police cases will be filed against migrant workers and their employers if they are found travelling to their villages.
"Employers or contractors who have employed migrant labourers will have to provide 21 days salary and food to them. If they fail, then migrant workers can contact 1077 helpline. But if anybody tries to travel to their villages, then a police case will be filed against such persons and their employers," Kharsan said.
UP provides transport services
Meanwhile, the Uttar Pradesh administration continued providing transport services to bring back labourers from the state stranded in Delhi. After receiving reports on buses being stopped by the police, the Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (UPSRTC) on Saturday requested all District Magistrates (DMs), Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) and other officials not to obstruct the movement of 200 special buses being run to provide transport facilities to people stuck at various places in the border areas with Delhi.
"On the directions of the Government of Uttar Pradesh, the UPSRTC is deploying buses to provide transport facilities to people stuck at various points at border districts of Delhi. The buses have started reaching Noida and Ghaziabad. Around 200 buses will depart from every 2 hours from 8 am onwards," read a letter written by the Managing Director (MD) UPSRTC, Raj Shekhar, to the administration.
"A few buses which have already left Gaziabad, Noida and bordering areas are on the way to various destinations in Uttar Pradesh... We have received few issues of stopping these buses at various checking points in various districts. UPSRTC would requests all DMs/SSPs/SPs to inform all their border checkpoints not to stop these buses en route," it added.
According to official data, Delhi has around 15 lakh migrant daily wage workers.
The letter further mentioned that the task of ferrying passengers to their destination in Uttar Pradesh will continue till 29 March and asked the "Destination Points District DMs" to take note of the bus details reaching their district points today and tomorrow and to make arrangements for the medical screening of all passengers alighting at the termination points.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, however, urged the migrant workers to remain in Delhi, adding that all arrangements had been made for them.
Earlier in the day, deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia visited Ghazipur area of Delhi, where workers had gathered in huge numbers to take buses to their homes in Uttar Pradesh and announced that schools will be converted to night shelters to accommodate migrant workers.
"We have started converting schools here (Ghazipur) into night shelters to accommodate these people. I request people to not leave their homes or shanties. Homeless people can stay at night shelters. We have the capacity to feed the people of entire Delhi," ANI quoted him as saying.
He said that the Delhi government would also deploy DTC buses but urged the workers to avoid travelling.
In Maharashtra, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray appealed to migrant workers to stay put where they are and asked NGOs to join in providing them relief.
According to a report in the Hindu BusinessLine, Thackeray said that he had been getting calls from chief ministers of states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to look after workers from their states.
"If human beings from other state have to survive, then humanity must also be shown to them. It is our culture and our responsibility to look after them," the report quotes him as saying.
He added that the Shiv Bhojan canteens in the state would remain open for three hours instead of two to cater to the needs of these workers.
With inputs from agencies