India lockdown: Delhi, UP governments in virtual war over migrants

India lockdown: Delhi, UP governments in virtual war over migrants
Representational Image.

The sudden rush of migrant workers from Delhi towards Uttar Pradesh and Bihar has led to a war of words between the state governments of Delhi and UP.

Even as hundreds of such workers wait for transport to go their homes, allegations are flying that the Aam Admi Party government in Delhi led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal did nothing to urge the workers to stay where they were in Delhi because of the lockdown.

The Kejriwal government has responded by refuting the allegations and has urged the workers to stay in lockdown.

The three-week nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus was declared by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a televised address to the people on the night of March 24.

India lockdown: Delhi, UP governments in virtual war over migrants

While the next day did not see any major movement of migrant workers, the exodus started in various states on March 25 and 26 with workers fleeing their workplaces towards their home villages.

Such workers from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi had started moving in large number on goods trains, trucks, tankers and whatever private vehicles were playing, towards UP and some onwards to Bihar.

It has been a difficult task for the state government of UP to handle this influx at border points with Delhi, as thousands of such people collected, wanting to enter UP even as there was no transport available to take them forward.

On Friday and Saturday, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath mobilised various agencies to first provide water, food and temporary shelter to such migrants and finally, thousands of buses have been pressed in service to ferry them to districts in eastern UP and up to Bihar border. 

India lockdown: Delhi, UP governments in virtual war over migrants

The movement of such a huge number of people that defeated the very purpose of the lockdown led to widespread criticism in the media and especially on social media.

Soon, it led to a virtual war between the Delhi and UP governments. Both sides accused the other of indulging in “petty politics” during the current crisis. Also, both sides blamed the other for the plight of these migrant workers.

On Saturday (28 March) evening, the Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia issued a statement on social media denying the charges levelled earlier by Mrityunjaya Kumar, media advisor to UP Chief Minister. On his part, Sisodia denied the allegations that the Delhi governments had made announcements urging those from UP and Bihar to move towards the UP border, and arranging Delhi buses for the same.

On their part, the Bharatiya Janata Party sources said that the Delhi government had allegedly cut the electricity supply to areas where large numbers of migrant workers lived, and buses had been organised to take them to Anand Vihar bus terminal, close to the border with UP.

India lockdown: Delhi, UP governments in virtual war over migrants

Kejriwal and Sisodia later also tweeted about shelters being made available for migrant workers, but by that time most workers had already left.

The Delhi government swung into action only on Saturday when Sisodia went to the border areas and met the migrant workers. Later he announced that his government had started converting schools into night shelters to accommodate these people. It was then that he requested these people not to leave their homes. However, the announcement came when already thousands of workers had crossed over into UP.

According to BJP sources, the Delhi government did not act in time to reassure the migrant workers that they must follow the lockdown and must stay where they were. 

In a side activity, AAP leader and MLA Raghav Chaddha had tweeted on Saturday evening that UP police was allegedly beating those who were trying to enter UP from Delhi. However, after the BJP created a furore, he deleted the post. Later, an FIR was lodged against Chaddha for inciting violence, defamation and under the IT Act.

On Sunday (March 29), the exercise continued in Lucknow to ferry the migrants towards eastern UP destinations. The lockdown and movement restrictions were enforced very strictly to ensure that any possibility of contact between the migrant workers and residents of Lucknow could be avoided.

India lockdown: Delhi, UP governments in virtual war over migrants

An official spokesman said that arrangements for medical screening were being made in respective districts where the migrants were headed since it was not possible to do so for such large numbers in Lucknow, and the first priority was to send them home.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited the Lucknow entry point of Agra-Lucknow expressway and issued orders that migrant workers headed for Lucknow should be sent for medical screening and then confined to a 14-day quarantine.