As the Delhi government garpples with the mass exodus of migrant labourers due to the lockdown, the Centre has come down heavily on Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for the government’s inability to provide basic facilities and reassurance to the migrant workers that their needs would be taken care of.
In a strongly-worded letter, according to a report in Hindustan Times, Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal has conveyed Centre’s displeasure over the handling of the situation.
“It also makes the point that the Delhi government had a free hand to implement the lockdown and had all the powers that it needed,” an official has said.
The migrants say they are moving back home as there is no employment, food and shelter due to the 21-day lockdown.
Though all inter-state bus service were suspended following the 21-day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24, thousands of daily wagers and labourers from Delhi, Haryana and even Punjab had been reaching Anand Vihar, Ghazipur and Ghaziabad’s Lal Kuan areas since Thursday after arduous treks on foot in a bid to ride buses to their respective native places.
Following this, the Delhi government on Saturday deployed 570 buses to drop migrants to the Uttar Pradesh border, expecting the Yogi Adityanath government to press buses in the neighbouring state.
However, Delhi Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot had said the city government wants migrants to stay back.
“But for those who want to leave for UP, the Delhi government is making necessary arrangements. As many as 570 buses of Delhi government will leave these people at the UP border. We would be very happy if the UP government sends its buses to take all these people,” Gahlot tweeted in Hindi.
Upset over the situation, two senior Delhi government officials were suspended from duty for failing to control the mass exodus of migrant population from the city and inept handling of the crowd, and an explanation was sought from two others.
“These officers have failed to ensure public health and safety during the lockdown restrictions to combat COVID-19. Due to the serious lapse in performance of their duties, the competent authority has initiated disciplinary proceedings,” the government statement said.
As the situation was getting out of control with thousands of migrants leaving for their natives in packed buses, the Centre on Sunday directed the states to strictly follow the nationwide lockdown norms and stop the movement of people across the cities, advising them to arrange shelter, food and other facilities for migrant labourers at their workplace.
Noting that there has been movement of migrant workers in some parts of the country, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba through video conferencing with officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs, state Chief Secretaries and Directors General of Police on Sunday morning decided to “seal” the district and state borders.
The Ministry of Home Affairs later wrote to states and Union Territories (UTs) to take measures to prevent large-scale migration of workers. In a five-point guideline, Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla directed the states and UTs to ensure adequate arrangements like “temporary shelters and provision for food to poor and needy people, incuding migrant labourers, stranded due to lockdown measures in their respective areas”.
In a five-point guideline, Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla directed the states and UTs to ensure adequate arrangements like “temporary shelters and provision for food to poor and needy people, incuding migrant labourers, stranded due to lockdown measures in their respective areas”.
As per the direction, the migrant labourers who have moved out to reach their home states must be kept in the nearest shelter by the state and UT government quarantine facilities after proper “screening for a minimum of 14 days” as per standard health protocol.
“All the employers, be it in the industry or in the shops and commercial establishments, shall make payment or wages of their workers, at their work places, on the due date, without any deduction, for the period their establishments are under closure during the lockdown,” the order said.
The order mentions that the landlords of properties where migrant labourers are living in rented accommodations shall not demand payments or rents for a period or one month.
On sealing the borders, Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba said during video conferencing: “Directions were issued that district and state borders should be effectively sealed and states were directed to ensure there is no movement of people across cities or on highways,” said a government statement.
“Only movement of goods should be allowed. District Magistrates and Superintendents of Police should be made personally responsible for implementation of these directions which have been issued under the Disaster Management Act”.
Saying that “sufficient funds are available with states in the SDRF head, the Cabinet Secretary advised states to ensure timely payment of wages to labourers at their place of work during the 21-day “period of lockdown without any cut”.
It is learnt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah had expressed grave concern over exposing the migrants to health hazard during lockdown to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
In a follow-up action, Kejriwal on Sunday appealed to the migrant labourers to stay where they are and not to go home. He assured to pay rent to landlords if the tenants are unable to pay it.
Kejriwal said if the lockdown is not followed, the country will fail to contain the coronavirus outbreak, and assured the migrant workers that his government has made food and boarding arrangements for them.
“I want to appeal to them with folded hands when the Prime Minister announced lockdown, he said ‘jo jahan hai wo wahi rahe (please stay wherever you are). This is the lockdown mantra. If we don’t follow this, we, the country will fail in the fight against coronavirus,” he said.
“If two or four people have corona, they will spread to others. You will also be infected. If you go to your village, your villagers will be infected. If this spreads in the country completely, it would be a difficult task to control it,” he added.
Meanwhile, with thousands of migrants thronging the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh borders and trying to return to their native states by any available transport or even foot, the AAP government has started setting up temporary shelters for them at its schools.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia on Sunday said two schools in border areas have been opened for migrants on Saturday — in Anand Vihar and Ghazipur.
Not just shelter, food is also being arranged in these schools for those who wish to stay.
The Delhi government has started 568 hunger relief centres in schools, apart from 238 night shelters to provide food to over four lakh people daily.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 announced a complete lockdown of the entire country for 21 days in an unprecedented drastic measure to try halt the spread of Coronavirus shortly after which the Centre said all road, rail and air services will remain suspended during this period.
With this, the migrants were forced move to their native places as different economic activities came to a virtual halt.
In India, the total tally of Coronavirus cases has crossed the 1000-mark on Sunday and reached 1,071 with the number of deaths at 29, while in Delhi, 72 positive cases have been reported so far.