Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Saturday sounded a note of caution over Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's plan to bring back migrant workers from the state stranded across the country due to the coronavirus lockdown.
"I heard UP Chief Minister's statement (on running buses) and I would request against it. I feel, at this point, we need to exercise caution. This is not the time. If someone contracts coronavirus, then it can become a big problem in Uttar Pradesh," he reasoned in an exclusive interview to NDTV.
Mr Gadkari, the Road Transport and Highways Minister, reiterated directions issued by the centre to all states last month - that each state should feed and house the migrants during the lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading.
"Right now there is coronavirus everywhere. If migrants return, they will not return alone, coronavirus will return with them. If the migrants are being taken back, it should be verified that they are not coronavirus positive. The situation is difficult right now, so I feel the migrants should be given food and shelter where they are," Mr Gadkari added.
A similar warning had been expressed, albeit more forcefully, by BJP ally and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar last month, who pointed out that allowing interstate movement of people at this time defied the logic of the lockdown.
Mr Adityanath had on Friday said the migrant workers from the state will be brought back in phases after having completed 14-day quarantine at the places in which they had been staying. The decision had come after it was criticised for arranging the return of students stuck in Rajasthan's Kota but not migrant workers.
The UP government had last month too sent 1,000 buses to bring back migrant workers stranded in border districts like Noida and Ghaziabad to hometowns and villages in interior districts. The government claimed around four lakh migrants had been brought back.
Just a few days ago, Maharashtra had also urged the centre to run special trains to return migrant workers from other states, including Uttar Pradesh, stuck in Mumbai and Thane; Mr Gadkari had then as well expressed reluctance at the plan and warned of "another Nizamuddin-like situation".
Lakhs of migrants and daily wage labourers have been left stranded across the country - without money, food or shelter - by the nationwide lockdown. Left with little option but walk hundreds, often thousands, of kilometres to return home, the migrant exodus triggered a massive humanitarian crisis for central and state governments.
Uttar Pradesh has registered about 1,778 coronavirus cases so far and seen 26 deaths due to the pandemic.