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Millions of daily wage laborers have now lost their livelihood. Hundreds of thousands of them had even tried to walk back hundreds of miles to their home villages.
Thousands of migrant workers came out Tuesday to the streets of India’s financial hub Mumbai, demanding food and transport, hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended the nationwide lockdown until May 3 to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
Migrants started gathering near Bandra railway station in Mumbai, the capital of the western state of Maharashtra and demanded food supplies and train services to return to their home states, dispersing only after the police resorted to a baton charge.
As a result of the lockdown, hundreds of thousands of workers have been stranded in precarious situations away from their hometowns due to the suspension of all transport.
“Central government should’ve strategically implemented #Lockdown2 & hasty announcement should have been avoided without any plans for the migrant workers,” the Minister-in-charge of Mumbai in the Maharashtra government Aslam Shaikh tweeted.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Udhhav Thackeray in a televised address promised the workers that his government would arrange to transport them home once the lockdown ended.
“It might have happened because they thought that trains will start from 14th April and so they would be able to go back to their villages,” the chief minister said.
However, the leader of opposition in the state Devendra Fadnavis, who belongs to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, said the local government was “shrugging off its responsibility.”
The complete halt in economic activity has severely affected its sizable poor and migrant populations, mostly engaged in the unorganized sector and construction, with the authorities struggling to supply food and other essential services.
Similar unrest among migrant workers occurred last week in the western city of Surat, while some homeless people allegedly set fire to their shelter in capital Delhi on Saturday after the reported death of one of the inmates amid scuffles related to food distribution.
Modi’s address on Tuesday did not include any fresh steps to address the growing financial and humanitarian crisis caused by the complete lockdown, although the government had announced a relief package earlier.
India’s US$2.9 trillion-economy was already in crisis before the lockdown, with the highest unemployment rate in decades.
Dozens of citizens died on their way home in March before the state governments decided to host them in cramped shelters. The city government in Delhi has been providing free meals to thousands of these laborers.