The Uttar Pradesh chief minister was furious. News videos show him sitting at the head of a conference table, lambasting the District Magistrate.
His voice is loud and clear – "Ye bakwas band karo apna, bakwas kar kar ke aap logon ne poora mahaul kharab ho gaya hai yahan pe.. Zimmedariyon ka nirvahan karne ke bajaay ek doosre pe dosh daalna… Do maheene pehle alert jaari kia tha, poore pradesh ke liye jaari kia tha (Shut up. With this nonsense, you have ruined the situation here. Instead of fulfilling the responsibilities, you are pointing fingers. We had given a ‘red alert’ two months ago, across the state.)".
It was a high-level meeting held on Monday to take stock of the coronavirus situation in Noida and Greater Noida, on the Delhi-UP border. In the prestigious Gautam Budh Nagar District not only have COVID-19 cases risen to 38, but the migrant workers fiasco is still unresolved even a week after the lockdown was announced on March 24.
If the CM has reasons to be angry, embarrassed and even worried by the way things are spinning out of control, the District Magistrate felt he was equally justified to feel affronted and humiliated at being shouted at in this manner. After the meeting, he applied for three months’ leave.
Just for the record, Brijesh Narayan Singh is a bureaucrat with a reputation as a crusader against injustice and corruption. During the Vajpayee era, he used to be an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the then Agriculture Minister Rajnath Singh. A 1992-batch PCS officer, he was promoted as an IAS officer in 2009. He considers himself very dedicated and efficient; and so do some others.
In fact, on Monday morning, VS Pandey, a retired IAS officer, had written an article in a national daily in which he praised Noida DM’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. “The district administration of Ghaziabad and Gautam Budha Nagar, with the help of UP Government, swiftly went into action and made requisite arrangements for the safe journey of the migrant labourers to their homes”, he said in the article.
Unfortunately, however, the main purpose of VS Pandey’s article was clearly to put the blame for the current fiasco entirely on the head of the Delhi government under Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Hence, it takes away some of the credibility of his pat on the back for the Noida DM.
Here’s what Pandey, a 1970 batch IAS officer from the UP cadre and who incidentally tried to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election, wrote about the Kejriwal government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus threat.
He asks two questions: “1) When clear orders were there to ensure that people stay wherever they are, then why no action was taken to ensure compliance? 2) Who is responsible for the mess created due to the mass migration of labour from Delhi?”
He provides the answers: “Clearly, it was the duty of the Government of Delhi headed by Arvind Kejriwal - not to just make statements in print and electronic media requesting people to stay but also to take the consequent necessary steps and actions to ensure that people belonging to other States, working in Delhi, are assured that they will get all the necessary support in this regard.”
He then went for the kill: “These are the days when Kejriwal needed to show his administrative skill and leadership. He failed miserably to do so and that became evidently clear from the migration of lakhs of people from Delhi”.
According to him, “What the Delhi government should have done was to get in touch with all the factory owners, contractors, service providers, shop owners, household manufacturing units, etc. and convey to them that they have to ensure that all the workforce engaged with them has to remain in Delhi and they will be provided the requisite money, food etc”.
Also read: Do the Math: India’s Covid-19 Relief Package for the Poor
“It was a task which was easy to achieve, but it seems the city government did not make any effort and created a massive problem for the state of Uttar Pradesh”.
This is the kind of partisan criticism that has come to fore even though everybody keeps talking about “rising above party politics” to “fight the invisible disease with unity and coordination”.
Indeed, the UP government has been passing the buck on to Delhi’s AAP government on several counts--especially for the exodus of thousands of migrant workers defying the 21-day lockdown order. The irony is that Chief minister Yogi Adityanath had personally taken a late-night decision last Friday to start operation of 1,000 buses to ferry people from the border, and those who had already entered UP, to their villages. The Delhi government too deployed 100 buses on Saturday morning to ferry people from the border up to Hapur in West UP.
However, the Union Home Ministry, presumably acting under instructions from the PMO, cracked the whip and said migrant workers should not be allowed to go back to their home villages. This put Adityanath in a fix because his arrangement for a thousand buses could earn the wrath of the PMO. So, Yogi’s advisor Mrityunjay Kumar put out a tweet: “Lakhs of people are coming to UP from the Delhi border. The Delhi government is unable to stop them. Arvind Kejriwal should make suitable arrangements for them in Delhi itself so that they can remain there. PM’s words should be honoured.”
Naturally enough, this sparked off a war of words between the governments of Delhi and UP. From Lucknow, press statements were issued saying the migration was a direct result of the Kejriwal government not providing food, water and shelter.
Some UP officials lavished praise on Yogi Adityanath for “going out of his way to step in to make arrangements for the hapless migrants”. They said: “The people are upset with the Delhi regime. Arvind Kejriwal makes promises for cheap publicity and promised free power and water for votes. Like always, only UP CM Yogi came to their rescue”.
Delhi’s deputy chief minister could not be expected to remain silent in the face of such criticism. He said that it is unfortunate for the BJP to be politicising this issue. “Unlike what the UP CM has said, anyone who is living and working in Delhi is one of ours, irrespective of what state they originally belong to. I have personally met many labourers and offered them food and stay in our government schools, but they were adamant about going home. Till this morning, the border was closed and the police had been told to now allow border crossing. As soon as a decision was taken that they would be sent home, we arranged for 100 buses to help them across”.
But tempers are still high and the blame game continues. A UP official threatened action by the police against AAP MLA Raghav Chadha who had allegedly claimed that the UP CM was having migrant labourers chased and beaten up. The tweet was subsequently deleted. Meanwhile, AAP MP Sanjay Singh also rose to Delhi's defence, stating that it was Yogi Adityanath’s statement of March 26 assuring that migrant workers will be escorted to their homes and buses will be provided that led to the chaos at the border.
Manish Sisodia added another dimension to the problem by pointing out that there was a "dangerous situation" because an exodus of migrant workers from Haryana was pouring into Delhi. The same was happening from Punjab too.
In the final analysis, it is clear to all that the blame lies squarely with the central government and indeed the Prime Minister himself for making a needlessly dramatic lockdown announcement without giving time for preparations and adjustments to be made.
Imposing nationwide lockdown on 135 crore human beings with just a four-hour deadline was always going to be a recipe for chaos.
Also read: A Lockdown for Ventilators and Hospital Beds
It was first published in Hindi in Rashtradoot daily, Jaipur, Rajasthan.