Coronavirus lockdown | Union Home Ministry blames ‘fake news’ for migrant workers gathering at bus stations

Affidavit in Supreme Court makes no mention of U.P. CM’s tweets on bus arrangements.

Updated - June 06, 2020 11:35 pm IST

Published - June 06, 2020 07:32 pm IST

Migrant workers struck near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border near Ghazipur on March 27, 2020.

Migrant workers struck near the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border near Ghazipur on March 27, 2020.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has blamed “fake media reports” and “misinformation” for the March 28 incident in Delhi when thousands of migrant workers and their families gathered at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border.

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In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court on Friday, the MHA said that “due to circulation of certain misinformation in the area of GNCT (Delhi), thousands of migrants gathered gathered at Anand Vihar bus terminal and Ghazipur border area on March 28. This gathering occurred due to fake media reports that 1,000 buses for travel of stranded migrants to their home State have been arranged and would be available at the said points.”

Adityanath’s message

The affidavit, however, does not mention a tweet by the office of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on March 28 that the State government had arranged for 1,000 buses for the migrant workers stuck due to the lockdown.

The message posted at 11.51 a.m. on March 28, still available on the official Twitter page of the U.P. Chief Minister’s Office, said: “The U.P government has arranged 1,000 buses to help workers, migrating due to the lockdown, to reach their destination without any hassle. CM @myyogiadityanath monitored the system through the night. In these unavoidable circumstances, food and other essential items were also being arranged for the workers going home.”

Coronavirus lockdown | U.P. govt. arranges 1,000 buses for stranded migrant workers

Similar tweets regarding travel arrangements were posted by Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Transport Minister Kailash Gehlot. At 12.24 p.m. Mr. Sisodia tweeted that 100 buses arranged by Delhi government and 200 buses of U.P. government will ferry migrants who were walking.

The MHA affidavit also said that “migrant workers not only in Delhi but also in other parts of the country due to anxiety, instigation and other psychological reasons started a journey to their home town on foot”.

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The affidavit also included a March 29 letter by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal written to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, saying the “fears and anxieties were further compounded by the unsubstantial rumours floating on social media that the lockdown is to be extended for three months.”

The lockdown was extended on four occasions till May 31 with special Shramik trains for migrants started only in the first week of May.

Officers suspended

On March 29, two senior IAS officials were suspended and another issued a show-cause notice, along with a DANICS officer, by the MHA for alleged dereliction of duty for not being able to contain the exodus of migrant workers from Delhi.

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Sources in the MHA claimed the disciplinary action followed their alleged failure on multiple counts. According to sources, the suspension of the two IAS officials of the Central AGMUT cadre has now been extended by around four months.

Renu Sharma, a 1988 batch officer who was posted as Additional Chief Secretary, Transport Department and Rajiv Verma from the 1992 batch, who was Principal Secretary, Finance, were suspended; Satya Gopal, Additional Chief Secretary, Home and Land Buildings Departments, and Ajay Kumar Arora, SDM Seelampur, were served show-cause notices. Later criminal cases were also registered against the “erring” Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) bus drivers and conductors, the MHA’s affidavit said.

L-G’s letter

The L-G in his March 29 letter about the “unfortunate situation” regarding the exodus of migrant workers in large numbers said, “Given the urgency and magnitude of the problem, we have been having daily joint meetings with senior officers, where I was informed that all arrangements have been made to provide essential services to the poor and needy to ensure that they stay where they are.”

However, the L-G stated further, “large crowds of migrant workers, marching on foot with their families on roads, were seen in the last two days.”

In some cases, the L-G pointed out, “large numbers of these workers” were picked up from their places of stay in DTC or cluster buses, which are operated by the Delhi government, resulting in “thousands of them crowding at inter-State bus terminals.”

Advocate Omprakash Parihar was on record in the Supreme Court representing the petition with Advocate Dushyant Tiwari.

Mr. Baijal said what transpired was “contrary to the assurances” given in his meetings with senior officers and perhaps, he said, there was “a failure to make adequate and timely arrangements for food, water and shelter and to reach out to these poor workers” leading to their mass exodus.

An earlier status report filed by the MHA on April 12 in the Supreme Court, however said, “with a view to initially disperse gathering of such migrant workers at the State borders, some State governments did make arrangement for their travel by bus but eventually a final decision was taken not to permit further movement of such migrant workers and required them to stay wherever they have reached while providing for food, shelter and medical facilities.”

Despite the April 19 guidelines by MHA asserting that there will be no inter-State movement of labourers, many States including U.P, Punjab, Odisha, West Bengal, Maharashtra coordinated the return and inter-State movement of labourers and workers.

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