A day after the Narendra Modi-led central government told the Parliament it had no record of the number of migrants who died or were injured during the national lockdown, the Union home ministry on Tuesday said that the migration had been triggered by “fake news” which caused panic.
Opposition leaders and the Migrant Workers Solidarity Network had slammed the government’s response to the Parliament on Monday which said it had no data on migrant worker deaths, and so the question of compensation “does not arise”.
“The migration of large number of migrant workers was triggered by panic created by fake news regarding duration of lockdown, and people, especially migrant labourers, were worried about adequate supply of basic necessities like food, drinking water, health services and shelter,” Minister of State Nityanand Rai said, The Print quoted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a 21-day national lockdown on March 24, without prior warning. The lockdown had triggered a mass exodus of migrant workers to their native places from different parts of the country due to lack of jobs, money and food.
On April 14, the government extended the lockdown till May 3.
On May 1, the lockdown was extended yet again till May 17. Shramik Trains arranged by the government to transport stranded migrant workers back to their home state began to ply on this day.
On May 17, the government further extended the lockdown to May 31.
On June 8, the first phase of re-opening began after 75 days of lockdown.
On Monday, Union Labour minister Santosh Gangwar’s written reply to the Lok Sabha had replied to BJD member Bhartruhari Mahtab’s question on the “the number of such labourers died/ injured during migration to their native places due to such lockdown, State/ UT-wise”.
Mahtab had also asked whether the government has taken adequate measures to safeguard social, economic, legal and health rights of migrant labourers before implementing lockdown in the country due to COVID-19.
The minister’s reply said the government did not have data regarding the number of migrants who died or were injured during migration to their native places due to the lockdown
However, the ministry admitted that more than one crore migrants had made their way back to their home states from various corners of the country.
The ministry also said no data was maintained on job loss among migrant workers due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Gangwar said the central government had taken numerous measures to provide them financial assistance, food packages and other benefits.
“You did not count, does that mean they did not die?” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi asked on Tuesday.
Gandhi was among several Opposition leaders who condemned the government’s response.
The Migrant Workers Solidarity Network said that the government’s response was not surprising since “475 out of 536 MPs are crorepatis”.
Researchers Thejesh GN, Kanika Sharma, Krushna and Aman, with the help of Roadscholarz, a group of freelance scholars and student volunteers, have created and maintained a database of Indians who died as result of the lockdown.
As of July 4, their database had recorded 971 deaths due to starvation and financial distress, exhaustion, accidents during migration, lack or denial of medical care, suicides, police brutality, crimes, and alcohol-withdrawal.
Aman, who is an Assistant Professor of Legal Practice at Jindal Global School of Law tweeted on Tuesday that one of the reasons they had begun tracking these deaths was “the active denial of crisis caused by the unplanned lockdown”.
The minister in his reply to the question spoke of “central government, state governments, local bodies, self-help groups, resident welfare associations, medical health professionals, sanitation workers as well as large number of genuine and bonafide non-governmental organizations” who fought against the unprecedented human crisis “due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and country-wide lockdown”.