NEW DELHI: The migration of a large number of migrant workers during the COVID-19 lockdown was triggered by panic created by fake news about its duration, the center told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai stated this in the parliament while replying to an unstarred question from Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mala Roy, who sought the reason why thousands of laborers started walking home from big cities soon after the lockdown was imposed.
In response, Rai stated, "The migration of a large number of migrant workers was triggered by panic created by fake news regarding the duration of lockdown. And people, especially migrant laborers, were worried about an adequate supply of basic necessities like food, drinking water, health services, and shelter."
The minister, however, said that the center 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.
Roy also sought to know the number of migrant laborers who died on the way home but the minister said that the center does not have the data as details are not centrally maintained.
During the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, there were several deaths reported causing a countrywide outcry, forcing even the Human Rights Commission to sit up and take notice, demanding action by the Centre. On Monday, Union Minister of Labour and Employment Santosh Kumar Gangwar had said in the Parliament that the exodus saw over one crore migrant workers return to their native states.
Regarding Roy's question about steps taken to protect migrant laborers before the lockdown was announced, Rai said, in order "to contain the spread of Covid-19" in the country, the center took various measures, considered essential for the safety of people including migrant workers.
"From March 21, 2020, onwards, control room operations in the Ministry of Home Affairs were expanded by making their functioning 24X7 under the supervision of senior officers of the level of joint secretaries along with the representatives of key central ministries. These control rooms, inter alia, attended to the grievances of stranded persons, including migrant workers and promptly resolved these grievances relating to food, transport, shelter, etc. States and Union territories were also advised to set up control rooms with helplines and to appoint nodal officers," the minister said.
Rai further said that the center allowed states to use the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) on 28 March to make provisions for temporary accommodation, food, clothing, medical care, etc for homeless people as well as migrant laborers.
In response to another question on invoking the Disaster Management Act, the government justified imposing the lockdown and said India successfully blunted the aggressive spread of Covid-19 through the lockdown.
"It has been estimated that the decision of Lockdown, by slowing down the progress of pandemic in India, has prevented 14-29 lakh cases and 37-78 thousand deaths," Rai said.
Lockdown helped create additional health infrastructure, Rai said, adding that dedicated isolation beds went up by 22 times, and dedicated ICU beds increased by over 14 times from what existed in March 2020. The minister further said that the testing capacity for Covid-19 increased nearly10 times and limited indigenous manufacturing capacity for masks, PPEs, ventilators, etc at the time of lockdown, was also enhanced to attain self-reliance.