Memories of last year’s lockdown fresh in mind, CM’s assurances meaningless for Delhi’s migrant workers

Suspicion on the government’s ability to provide safety of life and livelihood is writ large on every face that is leaving Delhi

NH Photo by Vipin
NH Photo by Vipin
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Gyan Pathak

Migrant workers continue to leave Delhi in large numbers. Thousands of them gathered at Anand Vihar ISBT to catch buses on the evening of April 19 within hours of the announcement of six days’ lockdown by the Chief Minister of Delhi.

Police said that on the morning of April 20, over 5000 people were present at Anand Vihar ISBT and railway station and the numbers were rising. The CM’s appeal with ‘folded hands’ not to leave Delhi seemed to have no value for these migrants.

The disquieting memory of the last year is still live in their minds, when migrant workers were left to fend for themselves on March 24 when PM Narendra Modi had suddenly announced a lockdown in the country, without any preparation by the Centre or giving time to the states to be ready with any planning to support the affected ones.

Assurances by the Centre turned out to be merely words which the government did not care to honour, and it had triggered large scale exodus and chaos.

By the time Delhi government, which then meant the ‘elected government’ of the state, came out with assurances and plans to support the most adversely affected migrant labours and urban poor, it was too late. Thousands had already left for their home to distant villages and towns in other states, on foot, empty stomach, without water, through deserted roads and streets under lockdown. Scores of them perished without support.

When the issue of compensation rose in the Parliament, the Modi government feigned ignorance of the deaths and said it does not have any record of the casualties.

Since Government of Delhi now does not mean ‘elected government’ under the leadership of the Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal but rather the Lieutenant Governor appointed by the Centre, Kejriwal’s assurance does not amount to much.

Under these circumstances, the Lieutenant Governor and the Chief Minister need to come forward together, if they really want that migrant workers should not leave Delhi.

Quite clearly, Delhi government did not come with any plan for protection of lives and livelihoods including financial support or relief to urban poor and the migrant workers before the announcement of the present six-day lockdown that came after the weekend curfew in the national capital city.

People have been primarily fending for themselves for the last one year, with only a few programmes for their help in place. In the political rivalry between the Aam Aadmi Party ruling Delhi and the BJP at the Centre, we have seen several programmes proposed by the state and disposed by the Centre through its appointee, the Lieutenant Governor.

Suspicion on the government’s ability to provide safety of life and livelihood is writ large on every face that is leaving Delhi. The second wave of COVID-19 began haunting the state since second week of February 2021, when Delhi had recorded only about 200 new cases of infection without any death. The infection rose to over 25,000 a day on April 18 with nearly every third sample testing positive.

During this time, Delhi Chief Minister and even our Prime Minister have been telling people that they were against a lockdown. However, the lockdown had to be announced, purportedly to prevent a collapse of the city’s health system.

Delhi’s health system has reached its limits, the CM said, while telling that the city was facing the fourth wave of the pandemic.

If it is the fourth wave, what were the LG and CM doing during each of the waves in succession? They allowed violation of Covid-appropriate behaviour and also ignored strengthening of the healthcare system. The capacity of the state government to arrange for beds is limited which can produce only about 6000 beds in 3-4 days while infection rate is over 25,000 daily. Shortfall in beds, oxygen, medicine, vaccines, ICUs et all have been reported.

In this backdrop, when the CM said, “We won’t need to extend the lockdown anymore. The Delhi government will take care of you”, nobody believed him.

It seems that the governments, both at the Centre and in the state, did not learn any lesson from the past experience when the first lockdown was extended beyond 21 days despite assurance of ‘winning corona battle as the Mahabharata battle was won in 18 days’. It means assurance as mere words may not work in absence of concrete programmes for life and livelihood support.

For loss of earning for every day, the migrant workers need immediate financial support to feed themselves, their women, and their children. One cannot feed or survive on merely assurances.

Modi government, which by proxy is ruling the state belittling the state government, must come out with such a plan for NCT Delhi's migrants that may serve as example or model for other states in place of criticising them for allegedly doing little. Ensure their minimum basic income, protect their jobs, give financial assistance to cover up their earning losses, and financial relief during their emergency health crises. Assurances must not come in vague terms in which no one can be sure as to who will get what and when.

(IPA Service)

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