New Delhi: On Saturday, the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi governments pressed buses into service triggering an incredible swell of migrant labourers at bus stations, thereby defeating the purpose of the national lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A huge number of migrant labourers had set off for their native places on foot in the wake of curbs on public transport following the nationwide lockdown that resulted in closure of their places of work. However, the Centre has now urged all states to seal their borders and not allow any such movement.
Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the complete lockdown for stopping the spread of COVID-19, almost all industrial, commercial and construction units had stopped working. With no work, limited money and rations at their disposal, this led to panic among migrant labourers, many of whom began setting off on foot for their villages and town hundreds of kilometres away.
As the media began streaming this mass exodus, which reminded many of the days of Partition, some states pressed public transport buses into service to ease the woes of these labourers. But with the country facing an impending threat of a massive spread of the coronavirus, these measures did not go down well with the medical experts who have been pressing for total ‘social distancing’, that has been found to be the most effective tool yet to slow down, if not completely stop the spread of the virus.
Realising this, high level meetings were convened in which stress was laid on continuing with the lockdown and not relaxing the screening or quarantine norms – not even for the migrant labourers, who are on the move.
‘No movement of people on highways’
A statement issued by the Centre, stated today, March 29, that the Cabinet Secretary and the Ministry of Ministry of Home Affairs officials had video conferences last evening and today with the chief secretaries and DGPs of the states and UTs. The meetings discussed the issue of “movement of migrant workers in some parts of the country”.
Unlike the lenient view taken by Delhi and Uttar Pradesh government in the matter, the Centre said it was decided 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.”
As for those who have violated the lockdown and travelled during the period of lockdown, the government said they will now be subject to a minimum 14 days of quarantine in government facilities. The states have been provided with detailed instructions on monitoring of such persons. The order said the states have also been told that “three weeks of strict enforcement is essential to contain spread of corona virus. This is in the interest of everyone.”
‘Only movement of goods to be allowed’
As per the decision, “only movement of goods” would be allowed and district magistrates and superintendents of police would be made personally responsible for implementation of these directions which have been issued under the Disaster Management Act.
In keeping with the earlier approach of people being made to stay wherever they were, the government order said: “It has been advised that adequate arrangements for food and shelter of poor and needy people, including migrant labourers, be made at the place of their work.”
To provide finances for such food schemes, the Centre had on Saturday issued orders for use of State Disaster Response Fund for the purpose.
‘No rent to be charged from labourers’
The government said states have been also told to ensure timely payment of wages to labourers at their place of work during the period of lockdown without any cut. Also, directions have been issued that house rent should not be demanded from the labourers for this period. “Action should be taken against those who are asking labourers or students to vacate the premises,” the order said.
Meanwhile, a detailed order of the Ministry of Home Affairs in this regard stated that “movement of a large number of migrants have taken place in some parts of the country so as to reach their home towns. This is violation of the lockdown measures on maintaining social distance.”
It further issued specific directions to the states and UTs under the Disaster Management Act 2005 “to deal with the situation and for effective implementation of the lockdown measures, and to mitigate the economic hardship of the migrant workers.”
The order directed the states and UTs to “ensure adequate arrangements of temporary shelters, and provision of food, etc for the poor and needy people, including migrant labourers, stranded due to lockdown measures in their respective areas.”
It also directed that “the migrant people, who have moved out to reach their home states/home towns, must be kept in the nearest shelter by the respective state/ UT government” and that they be provided “quarantine facilities after proper screening for a minimum period of 14 days as per standard health protocol.”
Finally, the order also made it incumbent upon “all the employers, be it in the industry or in the shops and commercial establishment,” to “make payment of 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.