The migrant meltdown. Not Modi's concern.

The migrant meltdown. Not Modi's concern.

Migrants walk homeward, Centre tells states to seal borders; SC seeks report

Stop movement, seal borders: Centre to states; migration bigger than coronavirus: SC

Agency Report | New Delhi | 30 March, 2020 | 09:10 PM

The Supreme Court seeks a status report from the Centre by Tuesday on measures taken in view of the large-scale migration of labourers from cities to their native villages amid the coronavirus outbreak and the consequent lockdown across the country. The top court observes that the migration of labourers out of panic and fear is becoming a bigger problem than the coronavirus. It said the court will not create more confusion by issuing directions on measures that the government is already taking to deal with the issue. Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra climbs to 215 as 12 more people test positive for coronavirus in the state. Out of the 12 new patients, five are from Pune, three from Mumbai, two from Nagpur, and one each from Kolhapur and Nashik. So far, eight patients have died in the state. The government asks states to ensure the 21-day lockdown, asking them to help curb the exodus of migrant workers from cities, as the overall number of COVID-19 positive people crossed the 1000-mark. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who declared a 21-day lockdown last week, warned against violation of the restrictions, saying those doing so were "playing with their own lives". He also apologized for the lockdown decision inconveniencing the poor but made it clear that it was the need of the hour.

A day after its move to curb the movement of lakhs of migrant workers across states in an exodus prompted by a 21-day nationwide lockdown to mitigate COVID-19 spread, the Ministry of Home Affairs on Monday announced that the situation is under control and the states have been directed to “enforce” the norms.

The MHA said that all the states and Union Territory (UT) authorities have been directed to “enforce lockdown period” as well to sensitize their police personnel. “Situation regarding migrant workers is under control,” Punya Salila Srivastava, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, said in a joint routine press conference held to share preparations in the fight against coronavirus.

The ministry made the announcement while briefing media after it issued a guideline on Sunday under the Disaster Management Act to fix responsibility on district magistrates and senior superintendents of police to seal district and state borders while making arrangements for those on the roads to be housed in shelters besides also dissuading such workers from leaving their current place of stay.

The government measures taken on Sunday followed concerns as the movement of lakhs of migrant workers from various cities to the hinterland continued which could lead to a problematic spread of COVID-19 in rural areas. The Home Ministry official also informed that 11 Empowered Groups have been constituted for comprehensive action to implement lockdown and other measures necessary to break the chain of transmission of the disease which has so far claimed 29 lives and over 1,000 confirmed cases in the country.

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to file a status report by Tuesday detailing on the steps taken to address issues emerging from the exodus of migrant workers from cities to their native villages amid the nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justice L Nageswara Rao, through video conferencing, took up two separate PILs filed by advocates Alakh Alok Srivastava and Rashmi Bansal on the issue connected with migration of labourers amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The apex court observed the migration of labourers out of panic and fear has become a bigger issue than the coronavirus. Saying the government is dealing with this situation, it said that it would not create more confusion by issuing directions on measures undertaken so far. Instead, the court sought a status report from the Centre before passing any direction.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, contended the migration of labourers is required to be stopped to prevent the spread of the virus. He insisted the Centre, as well as the state governments concerned, have taken the requisite steps to deal with this situation.

The court will hear the matter further on Tuesday.

Advocate Srivastava, the petitioner in the case, has urged the Centre to immediately redress the heart wrenching and the inhuman plight of thousands of migrant workers families — women, small children, elders and differently-abled persons — walking on foot for hundreds of kilometres, from cities to their native villages without food, water, transport, medicine or shelter, amid coronavirus crisis.

He said the entire world is witnessing an unprecedented health emergency due to deadly novel coronavirus and expressed solidarity with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on March 24, calling for the 21-day nationwide lockdown to contain the outbreak of coronavirus.

“Such lockdown is very essential for controlling the spread of the deadly Coronavirusa… the biggest sufferers of this crisis situation are the poor, unregistered migrant workers, working in various big cities of India as cycle-rickshaw pullers, rag pickers, construction workers, factory workers, housemaids, servants, unskilled and semi-skilled workers etc.”, said the petition.

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.

The direction came amid a migration of labourers from cities to their villages in different states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced nationwide lockdown to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission.

Noting that there has been a 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 today 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, including 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, including 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 workplaces, 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 of 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 the 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 was ordered that house rent should not be demanded from the labourers for this period and the action should be taken against those who are asking labourers or students to vacate the premises.

“Those who have violated the lockdown and travelled during the period of lockdown will be subject to a minimum of 14 days of quarantine in government quarantine facilities. Detailed instructions on monitoring of such persons during quarantine have been issued to states,” Cabinet Secretary instructed.

“It was impressed upon all the states that three weeks of strict enforcement is essential to containing the spread of coronavirus. This is in the interest of everyone.”

It was noted that, by and large, there has been the effective implementation of guidelines across all states and Union Territories (UTs). “Essential supplies have also been maintained. The situation is being monitored round the clock and necessary measures are being taken as required.”

Even as the Yogi Adityanath government tries to project a people-friendly image of the state police by releasing videos and photographs of policemen helping people during the lockdown, stories of police misbehaviour continue to pour in.

One such report has come in from Rae Bareli where a senior district official allegedly rebuked and threatened a youth who had gone out to buy medicines for his pregnant wife.

“Sabki biwiyan pregnant ho gayi hain kya(everybody’s wife has got pregnant),” the official who was enforcing he lockdown in the district, told the youth.

Another youth, who said that he had gone to nearby flour mill to give wheat for grinding, was asked to produce a receipt. On being told that no receipt was given by the owner, the officers ordered the cops to take him to the police station.

A group of young migrant workers, who were on their way back home on foot, were made to do sit-ups and hop with their backpacks in Noida.

In Agra, the cops made youths on the road, carry placards that proclaimed ‘Main samaj ka dushman hoon”.

A senior police officer, when asked, said,” I agree that there may be some aberrations but everyone must also understand the pressure that our forces are working under. They are dealing with an unusual situation and people must follow rules and cooperate during the lockdown.”

Highlighting the mass exodus of migrant labourers from the big cities to their respective states on foot, the Congress on Monday attacked the Narendra Modi government, questioning if lives of poor matter or not. Congress urged the government to ensure that they reach home safely.

“Do poor lives matter? Question – government should ask itself. If they do then unlock railways/buses and take them home. Do not stop them by force on roads. If the state had the ability to feed and shelter them they would not be on roads. Try and get them safely home,” Congress spokesperson and MP from Punjab Manish Tewari said in a tweet tagging railway minister Piyush Goyal.

His remarks came amid the reports of thousands of migrant workers returning to their homes on their foot.

The migrant labourers had been walking to several districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day nationwide lockdown on Tuesday to combat the spread of novel coronavirus (Covid-19).

The railways had suspended the passenger train services from March 24 to April 14 and even the interstate bus services were suspended in view of the nationwide lockdown from March 24.

On Monday, the total number of Covid-19 patients in India rose to 1024, with 27 deaths. (IANS)