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  • Police personnel stop commuters and ask valid reason to come out during lockdown in New Delhi, India, March 24, 2020.

    Police personnel stop commuters and ask valid reason to come out during lockdown in New Delhi, India, March 24, 2020. | Photo: Xinhua

Published 31 March 2020

The sudden exodus of laborers was triggered after Modi announced a three-week shutdown on last Tuesday to contain the new coronavirus in the densely populated country of 1.3 billion people

India’s top court on Monday sought a report from the government over the steps taken for tens of thousands of migrant laborers as they try to return home after losing jobs following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

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The Supreme Court was hearing two petitions through a video-conferencing as the situation turned grim amid reports of more than 20 migrant laborers losing their lives in different parts of the country during their long journeys on foot to reach their native villages.

Petitioner advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava told EFE that it was quite “heartbreaking” to see thousands of laborers walking on foot from various places across India, soon after the 21-day lockdown was announced.

“Till yesterday, it was reported that a total of 22 people have lost their lives while walking. So that was very sad. I requested the Supreme Court to intervene or try to ensure the well being of the migrant laborers,” Srivastava said.

He said the laborers, many of them along with families, were marching to their villages without sufficient food, water or any medical aid they might need as the government had shut down inter-state borders for all public and private transport.

The government on Thursday announced a US$22.6 billion economic stimulus plan that provides direct cash transfers and food security to the poor of the country as the country stares at one of its worst economic slowdowns and job losses.

The shutdown, in particular, has sparked a crisis for the millions of migrant laborers, mostly from the construction sector, as they have lost their daily income sources and cannot pay their rent or fend for themselves or their families in the country’s big cities.

Srivastava said he filed the petition on Friday and the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the government, which has sought one day to file a reply.

“The measures that the government is now taking should have been implemented beforehand, before doing the lockdown.”

Another petition was filed by advocate Rashmi Bansal, who demanded that the laborers who are either walking back home or are stranded should be sensitized.

“They are scared. The government needs to counsel them and make them aware of what is being done for them. They need to be educated that isolation is not dangerous for them rather it is for their safety,” Bansal told EFE.

“I have also sought coordination between the various government agencies. The government is doing whatever is possible. The actions should be in coordination, not the overlapping. The court has listed the case for tomorrow.”

Bansal said an estimated three to four thousand people were stranded in Delhi.

On Sunday, the government in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which, along with neighboring Bihar, generates the highest number of out-migrants, said it had made arrangements to bring residents home by commissioning about 1,000 buses.

However, subsequently the central government ordered states to seal their borders and asked migrants to stay where they are, adding to the chaos.

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