Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 urged all Indians to stay at home for 21 days to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country. It was a welcome decision on the part of PM to flatten the growth of coronavirus in India. But what is meant to be the country’s need-of-the-hour step to fight the global pandemic has left thousands of migrant workers on the road, with some walking to their home towns which are hundreds of miles away. With no source of income since the lockdown and fear of being pushed to death by hunger and not coronavirus, this is the story of India’s migrant workers.
Why are Migrant workers leaving the cities?
Delhi and NCR are the hubs of migrant labourers of the country. Due to the lockdown, the source of income of many of the migrant workers has come under jeopardy. Hence, the task to support families and continue paying rents for their accommodation became near to impossible. In the absence of public transport, hordes of migrant workers and their families from UP, Bihar and Rajasthan started homeward on their foot.
Sitharaman announces package; but is it too late?
Despite the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcement of 1.7 lakh crore relief package on March-26, many daily wage earners had already left on their foot for their villages.
One pertinent question to be raised is, is this a failure of the Central and state governments that they didn’t anticipate this?
With lakhs of low-income families in India, won’t it have been more prudent for the government if they had announced the relief package first and lockdown some hours later? Or was it not possible for the relief measures and the lockdown announcement to have come simultaneously.
But with no source of relief, thousands of workers have less fear of Covid-19, and rather more for forced starvation forced. Nepalese workers also walked till the border.
Did fake news and rumours create panic?
Rumour mongers and WhatsApp messages have created confusions and misunderstandings in the mind of people. In Kerala, about 3,000 guest workers had gathered demanding transportation to reach their homes. After much assurances by the government, the situation has been controlled.
The administration dispersed the crowd and arranged all amenities, including food, shelter, and so on. Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren has praised the step taken by the Kerala government. Panic, however, took a chaotic turn in Delhi as lakhs of migrant workers assembled at Anand Vihar waiting to be transported to UP. The UP government then started arranging buses and have ordered the workers for mandatory quarantine once they reach their homes.
PM Modi took cognisance of in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ on state radio, “I apologise for taking these harsh steps that have caused difficulties in your lives, especially the poor people.” He also said, “I know some of you will be angry with me. But these tough measures were needed to win this battle.”
The Central government has asked the Delhi government to set up temporary shelters for the migrant workers who are running from pillar to post to reach their respective destinations.
Doctors at leading hospitals on Friday expressed fear that this viral transmission may reach in its third stage if the lockdown and quarantine norms were not strictly followed. The gathering of this mass migrant workers and the failure of the system to tactfully handle this situation has led to fears of further spread of the virus.
ICMR announces no panic
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has assured that there is nothing to worry at this moment. There should not be any panic situation. Currently, India has not entered the stage of community transmission as far as Covid-19 is concerned. In the case of the community transmission source of infection and the link between the people and the patients are not known. Hence, ICMR has vowed not to panic in the current situation.
On Saturday, the ICMR announced that the medical body has decided to change the criteria for testing of Covid-19. Now, all patients will be tested who are suffering from severe acute respiratory infections. But until we win this battle, it is my ardent to everyone in India, help the people who are in need. But most importantly, stay home and stay safe.