As state governments rush to book buses and trains to send migrant workers home, the Union Home Ministry on Sunday evening pulled up states and told them that the relaxation wasn’t meant for workers who intended to visit home but only those who were in distress because they had been caught unaware by the lockdown.
Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla’s mild rebuke for the states on Sunday came after state governments rushed to the railways ministry to run special trains to send all migrant workers home.
Bhalla underlined that the Centre had only made an exception for people who had been stranded due to the lockdown.
“The facilitation envisaged in the aforesaid orders is meant for such distressed persons, but does not extend to those categories of persons, who are otherwise residing normally at places, other than the native places for purposes of work, etc., and who wish to visit their native places in normal course,” his letter to the state chief secretaries said.
This is the first time that the Home Ministry has explicitly, in writing, stressed that the operative word in its order allowing migrants, tourists, students and others was “stranded”.
Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba had, for instance, spelt out in his video conference with the chief secretaries last week that the relaxation shouldn’t result in a free-for-all and states should only allow people who were stranded due to the lockdown to travel from one state to another.
On April 30, Hindustan Times had reported the fine print in the home ministry’s order, ‘In Centre’s 2-page order on letting migrants travel, there is 1 operative word’.
The Centre decided to send the ‘clarification’ in writing on Sunday after an assessment that states, under pressure from the public and opposition, were getting into a race to send, or bring home, as many migrant workers as possible.
“It is clarified that the MHA orders are meant to facilitate movement of such stranded persons, who had moved from their native places/workplaces, just before the lockdown period, but could not return to their native places/workplaces on account of restrictions placed on movement of persons and vehicles as part of lockdown measures,” Ajay Bhalla’s letter, accessed by Hindustan Times, said.
Central government officials said the state governments should have, in the first instance, offered the ride home to 14-lakh people living in relief camps run by the state or non-profit sector.
“They are the people who have been really in distress and are stranded in every sense of the word,” a government official said. He explained that states, which were practically encouraging migrant workers home, should account for the fact that the state’s economy would take longer to revive in the absence of the migrant workforce that powers most industries.
This was one reason why the Centre had been reluctant to run special trains also. It, however, finally relented when the chorus from the states became too loud.