By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2020-03-29 19:25:47
The sight of lakhs of migrant workers trying to make their way home in the lockdown knowing full well that there is no transport to take them back is very disturbing. Although the government could not have given them time to go back before announcing the lockdown or ordering rail and bus operations to shut down, it could have at least ensured that they were provided shelter and food at their place of work. The day Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation and clamped the lockdown, he could have added a few lines to his speech that could have ensured this.
He could have told the workers that it was unsafe for them to travel back home from where they were as they could carry the virus and endanger the lives of their near and dear ones back home. That would have made them realize the folly of going back. He could have assured them that the government will provide them shelter and food as long as the lockdown was in place. Then, he could have told the people running the businesses that employed migrant workers in their units to arrange for their shelter and food in association with the local administration. He could have told the state governments to do the needful using whatever funds the government thought fit.
If those few lines were added to his speech, they might have prevented what is now turning out to be a big humanitarian crisis that might scuttle Indiaâs efforts to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the community. Simultaneously, the Centre could have asked the states to arrange for the necessary funds from the State Disaster Relief Funds to provide shelter and food to them. What is being done now could have been done before had the Centre anticipated the exodus. It was a major lapse on its part. Yet, if things can be brought under control in a day or two, a major crisis can still be averted. The Centre and the states have to bring out the heavy artillery to do this.