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Home Minister Amit Shah said today that the centre was committed to supporting migrant workers during the lockdown. He said states had been authorised to use respective disaster response funds for relief measures and set up relief camps along highways, while keeping mind precautions such as social distancing.
Union Minister for Road Transport Nitin Gadkari has instructed highway authorities to offer support to migrant workers trying to return home. In a tweet posted this afternoon, Mr Gadkari said he had advised the National Highways Authority of India to provide food, water and support to migrant workers/citizens trying to return home.
Distressing scenes were witnessed outside major bus terminus in Delhi this evening and late night as thousands of migrants assembled braving infection to catch a bus home. "I am a daily wage labourer. There is no work available right now. What else are we supposed to do? No arrangements made by the government have reached us. If we stay here, we will starve to death," a man was quoted by news agency ANI.
This morning the Uttar Pradesh government said it had organised 1,000 buses to ferry people stuck in border districts to villages and towns in the interior of the state. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also directed officials to arrange for food and water. This comes two days after a police officer in Baduan in the western part of the state was caught on video forcing a migrant returning home to crawl and hop.
The Delhi government has also arranged buses, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said. Tens of thousands of migrant workers from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan travel to the national capital in search of employment. "Delhi government's 100 buses are being arranged for migrant workers," Mr Sisodia said. However, both Mr Sisodia and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who said on Friday that lunch and dinner would be served to four lakh people, have also appealed to migrants to stay back as food and accommodation were being provided.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, under fire from former colleague and poll strategist Prashant Kishor for not helping Bihar residents stranded, said today that arranging special buses to return migrants to home states defeats the purpose of the lockdown. "It is better to organise camps locally, instead of trying to send people back home".
Mr Kumar and the Chief Ministers of two other states - Bengal's Mamata Banerjee and Odisha's Naveen Patnaik - wrote to counterparts this week asking for their helping in ensuring the safety of people from their states. Bengal, Bihar and Odisha, three states that send the most number of migrant labourers around the country, will reciprocate the favour, they said, adding that they would bear all expenses.
Trinamool Congress MP Derek O'Brien tweeted this morning saying that 40 migrants from Bengal had been left stranded in Tamil Nadu. The Rajya Sabha MP said his party had reached out to DMK chief MK Stalin, who is Leader of the Opposition in the southern state, for help and had been assured of support.
Domestic carrier SpiceJet has also offered its services. With all flights grounded till April 14, at least, the airline's CMD Ajay Singh said special flights could be operated to return migrants from Delhi, Mumbai and other parts of the country to their home states.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are among those who have called on the government to help the migrants. This morning Mr Gandhi tweeted an appeal on behalf of "hundreds of our starved brothers and sisters". On Friday Ms Gandhi Vadra said a "tragedy is unfolding along the borders in Delhi". Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has written to PM Modi to draw his attention to the problem.
With input from PTI