The mass movement of migrants after the country went into lockdown in March to fight the coronavirus was because of "fake news", the government said in parliament on Tuesday, delivering a new shocker a day after saying there was no data on migrant deaths, therefore "no question of" compensation.
The Home Ministry was responding to a written question by Trinamool Congress MP Mala Roy on steps taken to protect migrant labourers before the lockdown was announced on March 25, the reasons why thousands of labourers ended up walking home and the number of migrants labourers who died on their journey home.
"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," replied Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai.
"However, the central government was fully conscious of this, and 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," the minister told the Lok Sabha.
According to him, the centre "allowed the state governments to use the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) on 28th March itself" for providing temporary accommodation, food, clothing, medical care, etc., to homeless people as well as migrant workers. To augment the funds with the states, the Centre released an advance Rs.11, 092 crores from the state disaster funds to states on April 3, Mr Rai said.
On migrant deaths, he replied that those details were "not centrally maintained".
On Day One of the first session held in the virus crisis, the government told Parliament it does not have data on migrants who died or were injured. He was asked whether the families of those who lost their lives were compensated.
"No such data is maintained. Question does not arise in view of the above," Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar told the Lok Sabha.
Images of tens of thousands of workers leaving various states after losing their jobs and homes in the nationwide shutdown were compared by many to the tragic scenes of mass exodus after the Partition of 1947.
With no money or food to feed their families, migrant workers started on foot for their hometowns hundreds of kilometres away. Many died on the brutal journey home. The opposition accused the government of imposing a lockdown without a plan for the poorest and those who lost their daily earnings.