During the coronavirus-induced lockdown around 75 lakh migrant citizens have returned home by trains, buses the Centre said on Saturday, however most of the workers remain unaccounted since many are returning homes on foot. Around four crore migrant labourers are engaged in various works in different parts of the country.
Joint Secretary in the Union Home Ministry, Punya Salila Srivastava, said the railways have started over 2,600 ”Shramik” special trains since May 1 for transportation of the migrant workers from different parts of the country to their destinations. “According to the last census report, there are four crore migrant workers in the country,” she said at a press conference.
Elaborating on the steps taken by the central government for the convenience of migrant workers since March 25, when the nationwide lockdown began, Srivastava said 35 lakh migrant workers have reached their destinations using ”Shramik” special trains, while 40 lakh have travelled in buses to reach their destinations.
The announcement comes after the central government was slammed by the opposition for not helping migrant workers reach their home amidst pandemic. The labourers have also been charged for train fares at a time when they have not been working due to the lockdown, according to opposition. Congress president Sonia Gandhi on May 4, had announced that her party will pay for labourers train fares as the railway ministry continued to levy the amount from the jobless workers.
The centre, she said, barely gave a four-hour notice of the lockdown on March 24, so workers and migrant labourers were denied the opportunity to return to their homes.
However, The joint secretary said that on March 27, the Home Ministry had sent an advisory to all states and Union Territories (UTs) that the issue of migrant workers should be handled with sensitivity and ensure that they don’t move during the lockdown. The states and UTs were also told to provide them food and shelter, she said.
In another report the Gujarat high court said on Saturday that the state government should bear the fare of the migrants returning to their home states, or the Railways should provide a waiver.
On March 28, the Home Ministry issued an order empowering the states and UTs to use funds under the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) for providing food and shelter to the migrant workers. By April 3, a total of Rs 11,092 crore have been released by the central government to the states and UTs under the NDRF, Srivastava said.
The joint secretary said the Home Ministry again sent an advisory on March 29 asking the states to provide food and shelter to the migrant workers. The states were also told to make wide publicity so that the migrant workers know the facilities available for them.
Subsequently, another advisory was sent banning transportation of migrant workers by trucks and made the SPs responsible for any violation. Srivastava said the Home Ministry on April 19 allowed movement of workers within a state and on May 1, inter-state movement through trains.
A nationwide lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 for 21 days in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic. It was first extended till May 3 and again till May 17. The lockdown has now been extended till May 31.