On Sunday, March 29, the Director General of Police (DGP), Haryana, issued a notification listing steps that should be taken regarding the flow of migrant workers across the state during the ongoing pandemic. The notification was released following a video conference between the Chief Secretaries and DGPs of Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Delhi on Sunday morning. According to the notification, those who were part of this meeting “expressed their alarm and unhappiness at the large-scale movement of migrant labour on roads by foot followed by accumulation of large number of people especially at the Anand Vihar Bus Terminal”.
The notification states that the Cabinet Secretary has given clear orders to the police and district administrations to ensure that “there is no movement of people on roads”, and lists several directions that will be taken in order to make this happen. It states that interstate borders will be closed and the general public, whether traveling in a bus, truck, tractor trolley or by foot or bicycle will not be allowed to cross the barriers. It says, “They should be turned back without exception.”
The notification, that was issued by Navdeep Singh Virk, Additional DGP, Law & Order on behalf of the DGP, Haryana, adds that people travelling by foot on roads and highways within districts should be picked up by the district police, placed in buses, and dropped back in the localities where they started from. There is no acknowledgement in the notification, however, of the reasons the migrant workers had to vacate the localities where they were staying, and start these long tedious journeys on foot.
Also read: How a Badly Planned Lockdown is Turning into Full Scale Disaster
The most shocking order, however, comes after this. The notification states that directions are being issued by the state’s Home Department to declare big indoor stadiums and similar facilities as “temporary jails”, so that the workers who “refuse to obey” the directions of the district can be arrested and placed in custody.
Activists from across the country have criticised the insensitivity of the language used in the notification, which goes on to say, “A clear messaging (sic) should go out that “jay walking” on the roads with luggage/family members for travel is completely prohibited. Rather than facilitating such movements, the district administration should penalise such behaviour.”
This notification was issued soon after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Sunday released an order restricting the movement of migrant workers. The order, which was issued by Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, pointed out that movement of a large number of migrants have taken place in some parts of the country, so as to reach their hometowns. It said, “This is a violation of the lockdown measures on maintaining social distance,” and asked the state governments to take necessary steps for more effective implementation of the lockdown measures, and to mitigate the economic hardships of the migrant workers.
According to activists, this order came at least ten days too late. On March 28, an appeal addressed to the Union government, and endorsed by more than 200 activists, academics, and members of the civil society, was released, urging the government to provide immediate assistance to the migrant workers who are unable to reach their homes due to the lockdown.
Also read: Failed Lockdown: Devastating the Poor, Weakening the Fight Against COVID-19
The appeal said, “We make this urgent plea to the Central Government to pay heed to the situation immediately. The government must use the network of anganwadis, panchayat bhavans, government schools, government colleges, railway stations, bus stations, community halls, block offices, district headquarters etc to set up feeding centres to arrange free cooked food, medical care and sanitation.”
It also pointed out, “Foodgrains to the tune of 585 lakh metric tonnes are available in godowns of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and Central Warehousing Corporation (even before the wheat harvest). Some of it can be used to prepare cooked meals and/or take-home rations in these centres. This assistance should be available to all unconditionally, without any paperwork. This will still leave more than enough food in the godowns to fulfil the Finance Minister’s announcements and maintain adequate buffer stocks.”
The appeal also urged the government to immediately arrange for sanitised bus and train services to enable the stranded workers to reach home safely. It said, “This is a national emergency and lakhs of people are in danger of perishing in hunger and trauma. We, therefore, make this urgent appeal for an immediate response to the humanitarian crisis, to prevent it from snowballing further.”