State disaster funds to be used for immediate relief to migrants and homeless

MHA writes to chief secretaries of all states and Union territories

Hundreds of migrant workers are leaving Delhi amid COVID-19 lockdown. A view from Anand Vihar bus station | Arvind K. Jain Hundreds of migrant workers are leaving Delhi amid COVID-19 lockdown. A view from Anand Vihar bus station | Arvind K. Jain

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set the government machinery rolling to meet the biggest challenge of providing healthcare and relief to migrant labourers stranded due to the lockdown. 

As images of thousands walking on the roads trying to reach their hometown have prompted  opposition parties to put pressure on the government, which is battling the coronavirus threat, to provide support to migrant workers during the lockdown period, Union Home Minister Amit Shah took a series of measures as he reviewed the country’s preparedness.

Among the priority measures is the central government’s directions to state governments to set up relief camps along highways to provide food and shelter to migrant workers returning to their domicile state. 

The shelters are to be organised, keeping in view various precautions including social distancing, with adequate medical check up drives to identify and separate cases requiring quarantine or hospitalisation. The government has also set up a PM Cares fund for receiving donations from citizens who want to help fellow citizens and join the fight against the pandemic.

Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla on Saturday wrote to all states requesting them to immediately set up relief camps for migrant workers and pilgrims who are returning to their domicile states during the lockdown period. States have also been advised to give wide publicity and awareness, using public address systems, technology and by utilising the services of volunteers and NGOs, to give precise information on the location of the relief camps and the facilities being made available.

“States have been advised to set up relief camps along the highways for people moving on highways, including setting up of tented accommodation to ensure that these persons will stay in the relief camps till the lockdown orders are in place,” said a home ministry statement.

The government is also providing relief and healthcare under the relief package of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. 

Meanwhile, the MHA has also authorised all states to use the State Disaster Response Fund for providing such relief measures. 

The home ministry asked chief secretaries of all states and Union territories to include “provisions for temporary accommodation, food, clothing, medical care etc. for homeless people, including migrant labourers, who have been stranded due to lockdown and sheltered in relief camps” under the state disaster relief funds allocation. 

There are millions who work as migrant labourers across states. The nationwide lockdown has left many of them homeless as they are locked up in a city that has suddenly become unfriendly, with the lack of accommodation and food posing a challenge of survival. 

The disaster management division of the home ministry is closely monitoring the situation, said a senior government official.

The government has already notified COVID-19 as a biological disaster. However, according to the rules, financial assistance under SDRF/ NDRF is towards relief and not for compensation of loss as suffered or claimed. Moreover, no calamity-wise allocation is made under SDRF and states can use this allocation for 12 notified natural calamities like avalanche, cyclone, cloudburst, drought, earthquake, tsunami, fire, flood, hailstorm, landslide, pest attack and cold wave/ frost. However, 10 per cent of the annual fund allocation of the SDRF can be used for localised state-specific natural disaster. The home ministry does not maintain a central information database on relief provided towards specific calamity-wise or item-wise to the affected persons since distribution of relief on the ground is the responsibility of the state concerned in accordance with the magnitude of the ground situation.

However, given the present situation which is unique and threatens to boil over, with more cases of COVID-19 emerging, the Centre wants states to begin utilising the disaster funds for food,  clothing, shelter, accommodation and medical care among other services.

Government sources explained that though the primary responsibility for disaster management rests with the states government, the central government provides logistic and financial support to the states to supplement their efforts to meet the situation effectively. Meanwhile, if the available resources of states are found inadequate, additional financial assistance can also be extended by the central government from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).

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