In the first year of COVID-induced lockdown, helplines run by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) received over 13,000 distress calls of which over 11,000 calls were for food and shelter, according to the Ministry’s annual 2020-21 report.
The report said that around 41,000 relief camps and shelters were set up and more than 14 lakh people were housed there.
The Ministry stated that the nationwide lockdown was announced considering the “global experience” and the need for consistency in the approach and implementation of various measures across the country, including enhancing capacities in terms of testing, quarantine, isolation and hospital beds and ICU beds among others.
It said that “prior to the declaration of national lockdown with effect from 25.03.2020, most of the States/Union Territories had already declared lockdown [fully and partially] in their respective areas based upon their assessment of the situation.”
The report said the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by the Prime Minister, after assessing the threatening situation of spreading of COVID-19 in the country, directed the National Executive Committee (NEC) to issue necessary guidelines to the Ministries/departments of Government of India, State governments and State authorities to take measures for ensuring social distancing.
In compliance with the NDMA’s order, the Home Secretary, in his capacity as Chairperson of the NEC, issued an order on March 24, 2020 under Section 10 (2) (l) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to implement lockdown measures in the country.
The first complete lockdown for a 21-day period was announced on March 24, 2020, leaving thousands of migrant workers and students stranded in various parts of the country. Thousands of migrants walked to their homes from Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities as all modes of public transport were suspended.
In the wake of the crisis, the Home Ministry started three control rooms to monitor the complaints received from States and to resolve the problems of the migrants.
The MHA’s annual report said that from March 21, control room operations were expanded by making them operational 24 hours. “The number of helplines was increased from 7 to 66, of which 15 were dedicated to the people of the north-eastern region. Control rooms attended to the queries of States/ Union Territories and other Ministries on lockdown measures, addressed inter-Ministries and inter-State coordination issues etc.,” it said.
It added that from March 25, 2020 to December 31, 2020 “the MHA control room handled a total of 13,034 calls [excluding calls for movement of Shramik Special Trains] out of which 854 calls were related to essential goods and services, 11,377 calls were for food and shelter, 129 calls were for the north-eastern region and 742 calls were for other issues.”
The control room was getting around 600 calls daily in the initial days of the lockdown but gradually the numbers came down when the unlock phase started after the fourth lockdown in May 2020. Several days after the first lockdown, the Railways started running Shramik Special trains amid desperate pleas by the State governments and migrant workers.
The report said that from May 2-December 31 the same year, a total of 32,986 calls were received for movement by Shramik Special trains for 2,95,327 stranded persons, out of which 2,71,219 were for labourers, 5,388 for students, 1,539 for tourists and 17,052 for others. In addition, 296 calls were received from persons who wanted to travel to India from abroad and 265 from persons who wanted to travel abroad from India, the report said.
The MHA said that based on reports, the State governments were also requested to set up shelter camps nearby places where people had gathered or were moving in large numbers. “Around 41,000 relief camps and shelters were set up in the country. More than 14 lakh people were housed there. Besides this, there were 30,000 food camps. Apart from it, around 17 lakh workers stayed with their employers or on industry campuses where they were being provided shelter and food,” the MHA said.
It added that In the wake of sudden shortage of oxygen supplies during the month of September 2020, the MHA also coordinated with respective State governments and Union Territories for ensuring adequate and uninterrupted supplies of medical oxygen in the country.