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Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangwar during the ongoing monsoon Parliament session told Lok Sabha that as was no data on migrant deaths or on their injuries while on their way back home during the nationwide lockdown during COVID-19 was available, the question of compensation did not arise.
Gangwar was asked whether the families of the migrants were provided any economic assistance or compensation, to which, in a written response, he said, “No such data is maintained. Question does not arise in view of the above.”
Triggering criticism and anger from the Opposition, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Twitter wrote, “The Modi government does not know how many migrant labourers died and how many jobs were lost during the lockdown. If you haven't counted, have the deaths not taken place? It is sad that there has been no impact on the government. The world has seen their deaths. There is a Modi government which has no information.”
Due to the lockdown, migrant labours across the nation had faced major challenges; the untimely travel ban had impacted their lives and livelihoods. Gangwar, said that the state-wise data on the assistance provided to the migrant workers wasn’t available but India as a nation responded to these 'unprecedented human crisis’ with the support of various government-run local bodies, self-help groups and non-governmental organisations and professionals.
As promised by the Modi-led government, free rations were to be distributed to all ration cardholders across the nation. On being questioned on the data for the same, Gangwar answered that state-wise details regarding the same were also not available.
“However, under provisions of National Food Security Act, 80 crore people are being provided with five kg wheat or rice and one kg of preferred pulses, free of cost every month till November 2020,” he added. “Irrespective of their physical location in the country the government has started the implementation of One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) Plan, which would help migrants get food security from any fair price shop located anywhere in the country”, he informed.
Calling it 'utter callousness,' Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac tweeted, “Centre doesn't care about deaths of migrant workers they caused by pushing them in to trains, makeshift carts and on foot to the distant homes. At least acknowledge tentative and incomplete data of rail Sharmik Trains and road accidents.”
To contain the spread the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared a nationwide lockdown in March. The sudden decision compelled lakhs of migrants from across the country to make their way to their hometowns on foot or through various other mediums they could afford. With their incomes drying up overnight, the daily-wage workers walked for numerous days sans basic necessities including food and water.
As a result, many labourers succumbed to death before they reached their destination. After facing hefty criticism from Opposition, the Centre then took the decision to seal the state borders and organised special trains for labours to travel to their hometown.