Holding the government responsible for the plight of migrant workers walking down to their native places amid the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday demanded that it take concrete steps to avoid a major tragedy. He said it was shameful that Indians were treated like this and the government had no contingency plan in place.
Gandhi appealed to Congress workers to help such migrants by offering them food and shelter.
"The government is responsible for this terrible condition. It is a big crime to bring citizens to this condition. Today, in the hour of crisis, our brothers and sisters should at least get respect and support," he said.
"The government should take concrete steps as soon as possible so that it does not become a major tragedy," Gandhi said on Twitter.
Out of work and facing an uncertain future, millions of "our brothers and sisters across India are struggling to find their way back home", the Congress leader said. "It's shameful that we've allowed any Indian citizen to be treated this way and that the government had no contingency plans in place for this exodus," he said. The Congress leader also tagged a video of migrant labourers lining up in long queues waiting for transport to take them home.
Gandhi said "hundreds of our starved and thirsty brothers and sisters, along with their families, are forced to walk down towards their villages". "If you can, please provide them with food, water, shelter to them during this arduous journey. I particularly appeal for help from Congress workers and leaders. Jai Hind," Gandhi tweeted in Hindi.
Congress senior spokesperson Ajay Maken said migrants were facing immense distress after the lockdown. They have lost faith in the government as they have either lost their jobs or had no money to fend for themselves in cities, he said. "The government was ill prepared as far as fighting this coronavirus is concerned. I think, the government took a knee jerk reaction as I gave the example of South Africa.
"They took three days time, they gave three days notice to implement 21 days lockdown, so, why didn't the ruling BJP, give enough time to people to prepare and prepared themselves," Maken said.
He said the first immediate thing is that the central government should ensure migrants are adequately taken care of and they are not left on the streets and on highways. Social distancing should also be maintained while transporting them home, Maken said.
He also demanded that Rs 7,500 be transferred to their bank accounts and adequate arrangements are made for their food and stay.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said when the government can send planes to bring back Indians from abroad, why cannot it provide transport to send the labourers home. "How can we as a nation just leave thousands of migrant workers to fend for themselves? There are men, women and children who are walking as far as Eastern UP and Bihar," she said.
"We sent planes to bring citizens from Europe, why aren't we organising transport to take the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us home," she tweeted. She said it is the government's moral duty to help fellow citizens in this time of crisis. "For God's sake, Modi ji and Amit Shah ji please use the power you have been given to save their lives," Priyanka Gandhi said in an appeal to the PM and home minister.
"Do not give this treatment to our own Indians. We should be ashamed that we have left them in this state. These are our own. Labour is the backbone of the country. Please help them," she said. Priyanka Gandhi lauded the efforts of the UP Congress in helping the people in this hour of crisis.
Former finance minister P. Chidambaram termed it "another distressing example of the government's unpreparedness". The Congress has been critical of the government's handling of the situation, accusing it of not taking adequate steps to mitigate the plight of migrant labour force. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi had also written to the prime minister, urging him to take immediate steps to help the poor migrant labour force, who have been forced to return home on foot in the absence of public transport amid the country-wide lockdown due to coronavirus. Party chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also tweeted: "Respected Prime Minister, It is most important to stop this human tragedy. Two pleas: Full ration, half pay. Just food and medicine, Every person should reach home safely."
The Union Home Ministry on Saturday changed the rules for assistance under the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF), facilitating availability of money for food and temporary accommodation for migrant workers during the 21-day lockdown. In a communication to all chief secretaries, the ministry also said medical care and clothing can be provided to migrant workers during the period.