The central government on Tuesday said that the mass movement of migrant workers when the first coronavirus lockdown was announced in March had resulted from "fake news". The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said this in response to a question by Trinamool Congress MP Mala Roy in Lok Sabha on what steps were taken to protect migrant labourers before the lockdown was announced.
Roy also sought to know the reason behind thousand of labourers walking home, which resulted in several deaths, a report in NDTV said.
"The migration of a large number of migrant workers was triggered by panic created by fake news regarding duration of lockdown and people, especially migrant labourers, were worried about adequate supply of basic necessities like food, drinking water, health services and shelter," said Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai.
More than one crore migrant workers returned to their respective home states during the lockdown, with Uttar Pradesh topping the list with 32.4 lakh workers, followed by Bihar (15 lakh) and Rajasthan (13 lakh), the minsitry informed the Parliament. More than 4,611 Shramik Special trains were run by the Railways since May 1 to ferry migrants and over 63.07 lakh were shifted to various destinations in UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and other states.
Several migrant workers, who either walked or travelled in private vehicles, met with accidents throughout the lockdown. An analysis of news reports shows more than 100 of them were killed in accidents since the lockdown was initiated, while hundreds others sustained grave injuries.
"However, the central government was fully conscious of this, and took all 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 told the Lower House.
Rai said the Centre "allowed the state governments to use the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) on March 28 itself" to provide temporary accommodation, food, clothing and medical care to the homeless as well as migrant workers.
Rai said that to augment the funds with states, the Centre released Rs 11,092 crore in advance from the state disaster funds on April 3.
Responding to a question seeking information on the state-wise details of the death toll of migrant workers who lost their lives while trying to return home, the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment had informed the Parliament on Monday that no data has been maintained by the government.
An earlier report had said that these figures were based on accidents and incidents reported in the media and so the actual death toll could be higher than estimated.