Confusion marked the initiatives — unlocking funds, ordering relief camps — with some states arranging transport for the returning migrants and others issuing frantic calls asking them not to move because of the danger of the infection spreading.
Given the scale of the crisis, with 17 days left for the lockdown to end, this now poses as large a logistical challenge as the outbreak itself. More so, because there is no clarity on the level of spread of the virus in this floating population, most of them headed towards villages in UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
On Saturday, the Centre asked states to utilise the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) to provide food and shelter to the returning migrants.
The UP government said it deployed 1,000 buses to ferry people stranded on the Delhi border — and from Lucknow to other districts. Delhi provided state transport buses to many of these workers to reach the border.
Gujarat said it will send back 10,000 migrant labourers on buses either till the border or various districts in the state. “We request that no more migrants try to move from Gujarat now,” Ashwani Kumar, Secretary to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, said.
Madhya Pradesh police arranged a bus to carry migrants from Gwalior to Jhansi. And Uttarakhand said it was also organising transport for such workers from the state.
But the governments of Bihar and Chhattisgarh warned that such a move could lead to the spread of infection.
“Sending migrants by buses is a failure of the lockdown. Setting up relief camps at local levels is a much better option. If COVID-19 spreads, it would be difficult to tackle it. The advisable thing is for people to stay where they are,” Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said.
“As for migrant labourers stuck here, we have asked district authorities to ensure food and shelter for them,” said a senior official in Chhattisgarh.
In other measures, Uttarakhand sanctioned Rs 50 lakh from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for food and accommodation for workers from the state who are stranded in Delhi.
And, following similar requests two days ago from the chief ministers of West Bengal and Odisha, the Madhya Pradesh government wrote to all chief ministers, requesting them to provide food and shelter to migrants from the state.
At the Centre, Union Home Minister Amit Shah reviewed the situation and said that “as per the directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the government has committed all support to migrant workers during the lockdown period”.
Taking to Twitter, Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari wrote: “I have advised Chairman NHAI and Highway Concessioners/Toll Operators to consider providing food, water or any kind of support to migrant workers/citizens who are trying to reach to their respective native places.”
In a letter, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla asked all states “to immediately set up relief camps for migrant workers/pilgrims, etc., who are returning to their domicile states or trying to do so during this lockdown period”.
“States have been also advised to set up relief camps along the highways… including setting up of tented accommodation to ensure that these persons will stay in the relief camps till the lockdown orders are in place. The shelters are to be organised, keeping in view various precautions, including social distancing, with adequate medical check-up drives…,” the Ministry said.
The Ministry also modified its 2015 notification on relief measures in times of disasters to add “homeless people, including migrant labourers, stranded due to lockdown measures”.
In Lucknow, a government spokesperson said Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has organised transportation for people returning to UP and Bihar. A UP road transport corporation directive said the task of ferrying people from Noida and Ghaziabad on the Delhi border to various districts in the state will continue till Sunday.
“The CM stayed awake all night and arranged 1,000 buses for people to reach their destinations from Noida, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr, Aligarh and Hapur… At night, transportation officials, drivers and conductors were called from home,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Buses were arranged for people from Charbagh (railway station) so that they can get to their destinations. The DGP and Lucknow Commissioner also made arrangements to feed people at Charbagh,” the statement said.
Officials said people were ferried in buses from Lucknow to Kanpur, Ballia, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Faizabad, Basti, Pratapgarh, Sultanpur, Amethi, Rae Bareli, Gonda, Etawah, Bahraich, Shrawasti and other districts.
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