Rajat Sharma

My Opinion

Trains are waiting, migrants desperate to go, who’s stopping them?

AKB2610In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Tuesday, we showed visuals of Shramik Special trains standing idle at Mumbai stations and thousands of home-bound migrants waiting for buses to ferry them to their respective trains.

There was complete mismanagement because the Maharashtra government failed to make proper bus arrangements for sending these migrants in special trains. Late in the evening, buses and tempos were hurriedly brought and the migrants were sent to stations, packed like sardines inside buses and tempos.

India TV reporters sent ground reality reports from Kurla Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Bandra Terminus. These painted a grim picture about the lack of planning and management on part of the state government.

The Railways had kept 145 special trains ready at various stations of Maharashtra for migrants on Tuesday. There was lack of planning on part of the state government for ferrying these migrants to their respective trains. The result: thousands of migrants were kept waiting for hours under a scorching sun, unsure of which stations to reach.

Had these 145 trains run on schedule, nearly 2.5 lakh migrants could have left for their home states. There was complete confusion at the level of state administration and local police.

The Railways were supposed to run 74 trains from Mumbai by 12.30 pm, but only 27 trains had left by 6 pm. By late evening, migrants were dumped in buses and tempos and ferried to stations, but by that time the entire running schedule of the railways had gone haywire.

The Railways have a vast network and a time-bound scheduling is done to manage operations of regular and special trains. If 47 trains are delayed, the bandwagon effect occurs, throwing the entire schedule into disarray.

One more example. Mahrashtra government had sought 41 trains to ferry migrants to West Bengal, but Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s government decided that not more than two or three special trains per day will be allowed. Lakhs of Bengali migrants are thus stranded in Maharashtra.

The Railways have run 3,276 Shramik Special trains since May 1 transporting more than 44 lakh migrants to their home states. No other state governments had problem, except these two states – Maharashtra and West Bengal.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s govt had sought 145 trains and the Railway kept them ready, but on its part, the Maharashtra government was not ready with the passenger lists and buses.

Migrants were informed by police late after midnight to reach particular spots to catch buses, but none of the migrants knew which special train will originate from which station.

On the other hand, empty special trains stood at stations for hours, waiting for migrants to come and board. Thousands of migrants gathered in Dharavi waiting for buses to come and ferry them to their trains. Similarly, thousands stood outside Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

Sixty-eight trains were scheduled to leave on Tuesday for UP, 27 for Bihar, and one train each were to leave for Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. Till 12 noon, only one out of 18 trains scheduled to depart for UP had left. At Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (Kurla), thousands of migrants were brought in packed buses to board special trains. The entire station was packed with migrants and social distancing norms were thrown to the wind.

Bengal-bound migrants were the most harassed lot. Uddhav Thackeray’s government had asked for 125 trains on May 25, but could submit passenger data about only 41 trains. Out of this, only 39 trains ran. Two Bengal-bound trains were cancelled.

On Tuesday, the Maharashtra government sought 41 trains, but Mamata Banerjee’s government refused to allow more than three trains per day in her state. Thousands of Bengali migrants are now blaming both Mamata Banerjee and Uddhav Thackeray for this fiasco.

I have been speaking to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal regularly in the past few weeks about the plight of migrant labourers walking across the country to their native places. I had been persuading him to run trains to help these migrants reach their villages. On his part, the Railway Minister has tried his best to accommodate requests for special trains from all state governments.

Piyush Goyal showed me the entire list of special trains, the reminders sent by his officials to Maharashtra government and copies of letters sent. No Railway Minister can do more than this.

It is the duty of the state governments to prepare passenger and destination lists, ferry them in buses to stations for screening, and for recipient states to arrange quarantine. The Railways provide free food and water in trains to migrants, and most of them have said they have had a good experience during their travel. But why this mismanagement in Maharashtra? This question begs a reply.

My appeal to states: Spare the common people while you are busy in confrontation with Centre

akb2910As the number of fresh COVID-19 cases in India rose by 6,087 on Monday to a total of over 1.42 lakh, domestic air services resumed in India after a 62-day shutdown giving the aviation industry a much needed respite.

However, Day One proved to be a disappointment for thousands of travellers. Nearly half of the flights had to be cancelled at the last minute due to refusal by several state governments to allow air travel. Only 532 domestic flights operated on Monday carrying 39,231 flyers. This was only one-fifth of about 2,500 daily flights during the pre-lockdown period.

Last-minute cancellation of flights led to chaos at almost all major airports. Late in the night, the Civil Aviation Minister announced that Andhra Pradesh has agreed to allow air services from today (Tuesday) and West Bengal will allow incoming flights from May 28.

West Bengal government is busy with problems due to cyclone devastation. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray was initially unwilling to allow flights because Mumbai has become a hotspot. After Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri spoke to him, he agreed to allow 25 flights to land and an equal number of flights to take off from Mumbai, leading to last-minute cancellations.

Adding to the confusion, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Punjab, Assam and Andhra Pradesh governments issued their own set of guidelines for air passengers arriving in their states. Some states made institutional quarantine mandatory for flyers.

Air passengers who landed in Bengaluru from Delhi were outraged when they saw Union Minister D V Sadananda Gowda moving out of the airport in his car, without going for quarantine. Gowda claimed he had gone to Bengaluru in connection with his work and quarantine was not required for him. He even claimed that he could have gone in a special flight, but opted to go in a regular domestic flight because he did not want to misuse his position.

I feel Sadananda Gowda should not have taken that flight if he had no intention to go for quarantine. If he went in a regular flight, he should have followed rules which were applicable to other flyers. There cannot be different set of rules and norms for VVIPs and common people.

If as a Union Minister, Gowda had any important official work, he could have taken a special flight or a chartered flight. We expect our ministers to lead by example while following rules and norms meant for all.

On the bigger issue about harassment flyers had to face, it clearly showed lack of coordination between the Civil Aviation Ministry and the state governments.

The Civil Aviation Minister had announced on Thursday that domestic air traffic would resume from May 25. He had four days’ time and had claimed that all arrangements were in place. New set of protocols was prepared for flyers and airlines, tickets were booked, flights were scheduled, and hours before the flights were to take off, they were cancelled. Because of lack of communication with the flyers, the situation at the airports became chaotic.

Similarly, there was disappointment in store for nearly 3,000 Bengal-bound migrants at Bandra Terminus in Mumbai, when their special trains were cancelled. The reason was evident from a series of tweets by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. He tweeted that it was past midnight, and Maharashtra government is yet to send Railways the details and passenger lists for 125 trains scheduled for Monday. “I have ordered my officials to wait and keep preparations ready.”

The minister then tweeted: “I request Maharashtra govt to please send us the number of trains, their destinations and passenger lists. We are waiting and will work the whole night to keep the trains ready. Please forward us the passenger lists within next one hour.”

The Railway Minister finally tweeted: “Where is the list of 125 trains from Maharashtra? As of 2 am, received only 46 trains of which five are to West Bengal and Odisha which cannot operate due to cyclone Amphan.”
Shiv Sena leaders, in reply, took jibe at the Railway Minister pointing out how a UP-bound special train landed up in Odisha.

Now, look at what happened to the poor workers at Bandra Terminus. They wanted to leave for Howrah, had registration forms and health certificates ready, but were told at the last minute that no train will go to West Bengal because the state government had refused to allow trains due to cyclone devastation there.

Many of the workers broke into tears at the station, because they had paid up their rent and had packed all their belongings to return home. Many of the workers expressed their outrage at West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for taking this arbitrary decision.

Piyush Goyal is right when he says that trains cannot operate without detailed data and proper planning. Railways must know the destinations of the migrant workers in advance and at which stations the trains will stop. Since these migrants will have to be kept in quarantine in the states, the recipient government must make advance arrangements for buses to ferry them to quarantine centres.

West Bengal government may be busy in relief and rehabilitation after the cyclone, but one can ask, what was the state government doing from May 1 to 15? Why didn’t the state government send requisitions for special trains then? Mamata Banerjee is a sensitive politician and I hope she will take care of her people returning to West Bengal, whether by air or by train.

Indian Railways have so far run 3,060 Shramik Special trains ferrying more than 40 lakh migrant workers. Out of these,, 15,41,794 workers have returned to Bihar in 1,029 trains.

On Monday, another 1,96,350 workers returned to Bihar in 119 trains, but the state government is facing bus transport problems. It does not have enough number of buses to ferry these migrants to the quarantine centres.

Thousands of migrants and their relatives had to wait for hours under scorching sun for buses to arrive at Patna Junction and Danapur station. Social distancing norms went for a toss and the migrants scrambled to board the buses, with nearly four persons sitting on a single seat.

Clearly, no precautions are being taken to avoid spread of Coronavirus among migrant workers. These visuals are scary. It appears as if the virus is omnipresent inside the buses. No doubt, the number of migrants is huge, but in neighbouring UP, chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s government efficiently managed the return of 24 lakh workers by sending them to quarantine centres. Other states can learn from him.

My appeal to states: Spare the common people while you are busy in confrontation with Centre

As the number of fresh COVID-19 cases in India rose by 6,087 on Monday to a total of over 1.42 lakh, domestic air services resumed in India after a 62-day shutdown giving the aviation industry a much needed respite.

However, Day One proved to be a disappointment for thousands of travellers. Nearly half of the flights had to be cancelled at the last minute due to refusal by several state governments to allow air travel. Only 532 domestic flights operated on Monday carrying 39,231 flyers. This was only one-fifth of about 2,500 daily flights during the pre-lockdown period.

Last-minute cancellation of flights led to chaos at almost all major airports. Late in the night, the Civil Aviation Minister announced that Andhra Pradesh has agreed to allow air services from today (Tuesday) and West Bengal will allow incoming flights from May 28.

West Bengal government is busy with problems due to cyclone devastation. Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray was initially unwilling to allow flights because Mumbai has become a hotspot. After Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri spoke to him, he agreed to allow 25 flights to land and an equal number of flights to take off from Mumbai, leading to last-minute cancellations.

Adding to the confusion, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Punjab, Assam and Andhra Pradesh governments issued their own set of guidelines for air passengers arriving in their states. Some states made institutional quarantine mandatory for flyers.

Air passengers who landed in Bengaluru from Delhi were outraged when they saw Union Minister D V Sadananda Gowda moving out of the airport in his car, without going for quarantine. Gowda claimed he had gone to Bengaluru in connection with his work and quarantine was not required for him. He even claimed that he could have gone in a special flight, but opted to go in a regular domestic flight because he did not want to misuse his position.

I feel Sadananda Gowda should not have taken that flight if he had no intention to go for quarantine. If he went in a regular flight, he should have followed rules which were applicable to other flyers. There cannot be different set of rules and norms for VVIPs and common people.

If as a Union Minister, Gowda had any important official work, he could have taken a special flight or a chartered flight. We expect our ministers to lead by example while following rules and norms meant for all.

On the bigger issue about harassment flyers had to face, it clearly showed lack of coordination between the Civil Aviation Ministry and the state governments.

The Civil Aviation Minister had announced on Thursday that domestic air traffic would resume from May 25. He had four days’ time and had claimed that all arrangements were in place. New set of protocols was prepared for flyers and airlines, tickets were booked, flights were scheduled, and hours before the flights were to take off, they were cancelled. Because of lack of communication with the flyers, the situation at the airports became chaotic.

Similarly, there was disappointment in store for nearly 3,000 Bengal-bound migrants at Bandra Terminus in Mumbai, when their special trains were cancelled. The reason was evident from a series of tweets by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal. He tweeted that it was past midnight, and Maharashtra government is yet to send Railways the details and passenger lists for 125 trains scheduled for Monday. “I have ordered my officials to wait and keep preparations ready.”

The minister then tweeted: “I request Maharashtra govt to please send us the number of trains, their destinations and passenger lists. We are waiting and will work the whole night to keep the trains ready. Please forward us the passenger lists within next one hour.”

The Railway Minister finally tweeted: “Where is the list of 125 trains from Maharashtra? As of 2 am, received only 46 trains of which five are to West Bengal and Odisha which cannot operate due to cyclone Amphan.”
Shiv Sena leaders, in reply, took jibe at the Railway Minister pointing out how a UP-bound special train landed up in Odisha.

Now, look at what happened to the poor workers at Bandra Terminus. They wanted to leave for Howrah, had registration forms and health certificates ready, but were told at the last minute that no train will go to West Bengal because the state government had refused to allow trains due to cyclone devastation there.

Many of the workers broke into tears at the station, because they had paid up their rent and had packed all their belongings to return home. Many of the workers expressed their outrage at West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee for taking this arbitrary decision.

Piyush Goyal is right when he says that trains cannot operate without detailed data and proper planning. Railways must know the destinations of the migrant workers in advance and at which stations the trains will stop. Since these migrants will have to be kept in quarantine in the states, the recipient government must make advance arrangements for buses to ferry them to quarantine centres.

West Bengal government may be busy in relief and rehabilitation after the cyclone, but one can ask, what was the state government doing from May 1 to 15? Why didn’t the state government send requisitions for special trains then? Mamata Banerjee is a sensitive politician and I hope she will take care of her people returning to West Bengal, whether by air or by train.

Indian Railways have so far run 3,060 Shramik Special trains ferrying more than 40 lakh migrant workers. Out of these,, 15,41,794 workers have returned to Bihar in 1,029 trains.

On Monday, another 1,96,350 workers returned to Bihar in 119 trains, but the state government is facing bus transport problems. It does not have enough number of buses to ferry these migrants to the quarantine centres.

Thousands of migrants and their relatives had to wait for hours under scorching sun for buses to arrive at Patna Junction and Danapur station. Social distancing norms went for a toss and the migrants scrambled to board the buses, with nearly four persons sitting on a single seat.

Clearly, no precautions are being taken to avoid spread of Coronavirus among migrant workers. These visuals are scary. It appears as if the virus is omnipresent inside the buses. No doubt, the number of migrants is huge, but in neighbouring UP, chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s government efficiently managed the return of 24 lakh workers by sending them to quarantine centres. Other states can learn from him.

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How timely enforcement of lockdown saved 54,000 to 78,000 lives in India

akb2301The surge in fresh COVID-19 cases in Delhi hit a new peak of 660 on Friday taking the total number to 12,319. This is the fourth peak in the capital in the last four days, even as the death toll has now touched 208. Nine more localities have been earmarked as containment zones.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in India on Friday reached 1,23,081, with nearly one-third (22,794) of all active cases recorded in the past four days alone. Of course, more than 50,000 people have recovered from this deadly disease till now.

Overall, there are five states which account for more than 80 per cent of COVID-19 cases in India. They are : Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Maharashtra leads the tally with 44,582 cases, while Tamil Nadu, at second place, has recorded 14,753 cases,which is almost one-third compared to that of Maharashtra.

In the last few days, many people have been asking me about the benefits of lockdown that was enforced on March 25. People are questioning why the graph is rising if the lockdown was successful? Was it because there were fewer testings in the initial days and the figures at that time were on the lower side? When India completely control this pandemic? When will the graph curve turn flat? Have the relaxations given rise to the upward curve? When will Coronavirus reach its peak in India?

On Friday, the Centre presented various models to indicate that India averted an estimated 14 to 29 lakh Coronavirus cases and between 37,000 to 78,000 deaths due to timely enforcement of nationwide lockdown. A senior government official said, the lockdown did significantly reduce the speed at which the virus was spreading.

I spoke to several top ministers, renowned medical experts and scientists for a comparative assessment of the gains derived from the lockdown in India and the COVID-19 figures in developed countries. The first point that was made clearly was that, had the lockdown not been enforced on March 25, the number of COVID-19 positive patients in India today would have touched 24,50,000 and the death toll would have touched 72,000.

Nearly 23 lakh people were thus protected from infection and 68,000 lives were saved. Public Health Foundation of India has calculated that 78 thousand lives were saved, while Boston Consulting Group’s model claimed that 1.25 to 2.10 lakh lives were saved in the nick of time. The Ministry of Statistics and Indian Statistical Institute have in their study claimed that nearly 20 lakh Indians could have been infected and 54,000 lives could have been lost.

Now that COVID-19 cases are rising daily at the rate of 5,500-6,000, there appears to be some sort of panic and questions are being asked. Let me point out, on April 3, India had 22.6 per cent new cases per day, but after April 4, it has slowed down considerably and has now settled around 5.5 per cent.

If we look at the doubling rate, the figure was doubling in 3.4 days initially, but now the doubling rate is 13.3 days.

The virus is now mostly confined to five states. The largest number of cases are being reported from six big cities – Mumbai, Thane, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Chennai and Indore. More than 50 per cent of active cases are in these six cities.

The gains of lockdown are there for all to see.

Some naysayers say, the figures are on the lower side because of less number of testing. These doubts are based on false assumptions. In the last 24 hours, nearly one lakh tests were conducted. Till 1 pm on Friday, the total number of COVID-19 tests done in India was 27,55,714. Out of these, 18,287 tests were done in private labs and the rest in government labs.

Compare this with other countries. In USA 1,34,79,000 tests were done, out of which more than 16 lakhs were found positive. In Spain, more than 30 lakh tests were done, and 2,80,000 were found positive. In UK, 2.5 lakh tests were done and more than 30,000 were found positive.

The question that arises now is why is the number of patients is rising? Let me give the example of India’s most troubled hotspot – Mumbai. There were 27,068 cases in the city and 909 patients have died till now. There were 1,751 fresh cases on Friday and the daily death rate is in the range of 40-45 which occasionally touched 60.

India TV reporters tried to find out the causes behind the spurt in cases. The main reason seems to be densely populated localities which do not provide space for social distancing. The virus has spread in Dharavi, Govandi, Sion, BDD chawls and Kurla, and from there to Antop Hill, Kandivali, Juhu, Andheri, Koliwada and Jijamata Nagar. In Dharavi alone, more than 1,500 cases were detected. The virus is spreading fast to Thane, Pune, Akola and Nagpur.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation claims there is no dearth of hospital beds in Mumbai, while doctors say that most of the patients come only when their condition becomes critical. When visuals of bodies lying on hospital beds near patients go viral, the common man loses faith in the healthcare system.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Friday night, we showed how a Coronavirus patient had to walk to a hospital with his relatives because no ambulance was available. The man in Kalyan-Dombivali got a test done at a private lab and the report came positive. His relatives gave this information to hospitals and BMC officials, but nobody came forward to help. For 16 hours, the patient waited but no ambulance came. Such visuals raise question about the efficiency of our healthcare system.

The Mayor of Mumbai laid the blame on private ambulance operators. She said these private operators have been refusing to ferry COVID-19 patients to hospitals, though they have been offered PPE kits. Private operators, the Mayor said, are afraid and do not want their drivers and helpers to contract the virus. The state government had to convert hundreds of BEST buses into ambulances.

I find there is lack of trust between various groups that are involved in healthcare. Private ambulance operators, private hospital owners and doctors do not trust assurances given by BMC or state authorities.

There is no dearth of beds in Mumbai hospitals, big private hospitals have been asked to keep 80 per cent beds reserved for COVID-19 patients, nearly 25,000 private doctors who had stopped going to hospitals during lockdown, have been asked to rejoin. Scores of nurses hailing from other states have left their jobs, and the state government has now decided to induct nearly 17,000 health workers. There seems to be lack of communication and commitment among those who are working within the healthcare system.

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With Coronavirus spreading in UP, Bihar, Centre now faces a Catch-22 situation on return of migrants

AKB2610The COVID-19 pandemic surge continues with 5,864 new cases reported on Thursday bringing the total to 1,16,744 cases across India. 48,258 patients have recovered so far.

This is the fifth daily peak recorded in the past six days, and 148 deaths were reported on a single day, bringing the death toll to 3,583. The danger is staring in the face with reports of a surge in new cases from UP and Bihar, where lakhs of migrant workers have landed. In UP alone, nearly 20 lakh migrants have returned so far, and another 10 lakhs are on their way.

UP recorded 313 and Bihar recorded 341 fresh cases on Thursday and most of them were due to migrants who have returned. According to Bihar health department, so far 999 migrants have tested positive since May 5, which is more than half of the total number of cases (roughly 1,800) in Bihar. Out of these migrants, 296 came from Delhi, 253 from Maharashtra and 180 returned from Gujarat.

Similarly, in Rajasthan, 1,099 migrant workers have been found carrying the virus, while 1,230 migrants in UP have been found Corona positive.

The virus has now spread far and wide in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Haryana, due to migrants. In many of the cases, the migrants did not know that they were carrying the virus. The result: districts which were declared green zones are now being declared as red zones.

These are scary trends and if the present rate of addition of new cases remains at the 5,500-level, the total number of Coronavirus cases in India may surely touch two lakh by June.

Authorities are facing a fresh problem while ferrying migrants. Many of the migrants returning home in special trains are pulling alarm chains and getting off from their coaches, to avoid being quarantined.

In my prime time show ‘AajKi Baat’ on Thursday night, we showed how hundreds of migrants pulled the alarm chain of a Katihar-bound special train carrying 1,200 workers at Khagaria station, and got off the train. Khagaria is 135 km away from Katihar and it’s a three and a half hour travel. In order to avoid screening and 14 days quarantine in Katihar, the migrants pulled the chain and got off the special train.

With more than 200 special trains ferrying migrants to their home states, the number of workers travelling on foot has considerably declined.

Nearly 1,40,000 migrants returned to Bihar on Thursday in 85 special trains. 87 more trains will run on Friday carrying 1,43,500 workers to Bihar. Just imagine the massive arrangements that the state government has to make to put these migrants in quarantine. There are 10,500 quarantine centres in Bihar housing more than seven lakh migrants. More quarantine centres are being set up to cope with the fresh influx.

The situation is scarier in Uttar Pradesh. Till now, 1,100 special trains were run carrying 16 lakh migrants to UP. Along with them, came the virus. Till Thursday, 1,230 migrants have been found positive in UP.

Take the example of Barabanki. During Lockdown-3, no fresh case was detected in this district and it was declared a green zone, but when the migrants started returning, the district has now 125 COVID-19 patients, out of which 95 were detected on a single day. Out of this, 49 cases related to migrant workers, and the rest were their immediate contacts.

Similarly 63 COVID-19 cases were reported from Siddharthnagar, 47 in Jaunpur, 45 in Rampur, 42 in Bahraich, 35 in Lakhimpur, 30 each in Azamgarh and Balrampur, 28 in Varanasi, 27 in Sambhal, 24 in Gonda, and 20 in Hardoi districts. Most of these cases relate to migrants who have returned.

More than 100 COVID-19 cases have been reported from Chandauli, Sitapur, Mainpuri, Sonbhadra, Bijnor, Unnao, Bulandshahr, Bareilly, Kushinagar, Bhadohi and Kasganj. The pandemic is spreading in all these districts and health care officials are having a tough time in stemming the spread.

The government is now facing a Catch-22 situation. If the migrants are prevented from leaving metros, they will march out on foot with their family in tow and walk hundreds of kilometres, and if special trains are run to ferry them to their home states, they will be spreading the virus in places which were hitherto untouched by the virus.

On May 1, when the first special trains rolled out from Telangana and Kerala, all the migrants were screened and made to sit inside railway coaches maintaining social distance norms. RPF personnel were provided in every coach to keep a watch and the trains were running non-stop, with food already provided on board.

Later, when the rush of special trains began, it was difficult to continue with this strict protocol. Migrants started pulling alarm chain to get off the train before reaching their destinations.

In the present situation, the number of special trains cannot be reduced, nor can the migrants be allowed to enter their villages without being quarantined. Local police and district authorities have a huge task on their hands right now. Even if a handful of migrants sneak back to the confines of their homes carrying the virus, it will be a tough time for authorities to do contact tracing.

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Mumbai, Ahmedabad continue to be hotspots, graves being readied in advance

akb0210The biggest single day spike of 5,376 fresh COVID-19 cases was reported across India on Wednesday with Delhi touching a new high of 534 cases on a single day. The big single-day spikes are being noticed for the last five consecutive days and the situation could turn for the worse with the return of lakhs of migrant workers to their villages. Maharashtra’s total tally of COVID-19 cases is nearing the 40,000 mark.

There are two good news for travellers: air travel will resume from May 25 with several restrictions, and booking for railway tickets for 200 special non-AC trains will begin today (Thursday).

These measures do not mean that the pandemic situation has improved. On the contrary, the number of fresh cases is rising daily and everybody needs to be on guard and practice social distancing norms.

On Wednesday, in my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, we showed how graves are being prepared in advance in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat, Bhopal and Indore for COVID-19 victims. Normally graves are dug four to six feet deep, but according to standard COVID-19 protocol, 10 feet deep grave is a must. Only two family members are allowed to be present for prayers. In some cities, JCB machines are being used to dig up graves.

These visuals brought scary memories of the digging of mass graves in New York and Brazil, and we should pray that such a situation does not happen in India. The death toll across India is presently on the lower side in proportion to the number of COVID-19 cases, which means that nearly half of the patients have recovered.

Mumbai seems to be the most troubled hotspot, with 22,500 cases and a death toll of more than 800. Nearly one in every four Indians dying of Coronavirus is a Mumbaikar. The pressure on caretakers of cemeteries is tremendous and they are preparing graves in advance.

The second most troubled hotspot is Ahmedabad, with nearly 9,000 cases and a death toll above 576. Jamalpur, Behrampura, Danilimda, Khadiya, Gomtipur, Saraspur, Dariapur and Shahpur are Muslim-dominated localities, from where the maximum number of cases have come. Graves are being prepared in the cemeteries to face the oncoming challenge.

Other cities like Surat, Bhopal and Indore are also facing the brunt of COVID-19 cases and caretakers of cemeteries in these cities are also gearing up in advance.

The situation is acute also at cremation grounds. The bodies are disposed of in electric crematoriums, but the problem arises over collection of ashes. Since only two family members are allowed, they leave soon after the cremation, and due to lockdown, many family members are unable to return and collect ashes for imersion in rivers. Lockers have been set up at several crematoriums to store these ashes.

My intention of showing visuals of graves was not meant to shock viewers, but to convey to them about the impending danger of the spread of this pandemic. Each one of us needs to be alert and vigilant, maintain social distancing in offices and markets, and keep family members protected from the scourge of this virus.

On the migrants front, there was good news on Wednesday, when Railways ran 204 special trains to ferry them to their native places. Sixty five special trains ran from Maharashtra, 22 special trains ran from Delhi on Wednesday and 92 special trains carrying migrants reached different cities of UP.

206 more special trains will run in the next 48 hours. So far, more than 16 lakh migrants have returned to UP in nearly 1,000 trains. The UP government has deployed 12,000 roadways buses to ferry six lakh migrants to their towns and villages.

I am waiting for the day when people will not find a single migrant walking on foot on highways. The constant refrain of these migrant workers, who had lost their source of earnings, has been: “we want to go home”. They were unwilling to listen to promises and pleas.

These workers, like most of us, have simply no idea when this pandemic will end. Nobody can promise with certainty that the pandemic will end by a certain date. With such an uncertain future, these workers decided to return home and wait till situation returns to normal.

From today, Railways will run 400 special trains for migrants, and already thousands of buses are being run by state governments to ferry them. The new challenge will now arise in rural areas, where these migrants will reach. Many of them could be carriers of the virus, and given the poor medical infrastructure in rural areas, it could be a tough time for community health planners in coping up with the challenge.

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Railway’s decision to run 400 trains daily for migrants is a welcome step

AKB2610I welcome two major decisions taken by Railways to help migrant workers wanting to go home. Today 200 trains are carrying 3,50,000 to take them to various districts. Tomorrow onwards 400 such special trains will run for migrants.

Till now, the Shramik Specials that are being run required an elaborate procedure. Recipient state governments had to give clearances, the sender state governments had to prepare lists and carry out medical checks, before forwarding them to Railway authorities. All this was taking lot of time. But now there will be no need to obtain consent from receiving state governments for sending these trains.

This decision has been taken to prevent thousands of migrants from travelling on foot or on trucks to reach their home states. The Railways will only inform the Home Ministry about the trains that are being run.

On Monday, when I spoke to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, he gave broad hints about this measure. A similar suggestion came from Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal who wanted all migrants wishing to leave the capital to congregate in different stadiums state-wise and then sent by special trains on a single day.

There is no doubt that Indian Railways have shown tremendous speed in providing special trains to transport migrants to their states. So far, more than 1,800 special trains have been run.

Take the example of UP. The state government had sought more than 1000 trains and the Railways fulfilled its demand immediately. Till now, more than 20 lakh migrants have been transported to their native states involving a cost of Rs 1,200 crores, to be shared by Centre and states on 85:15 basis.

Today (Wednesday) 66 special trains will run for Bihar and nearly 100 trains to UP. Gujarat and Bihar governments had asked for 100 trains daily, and the Railways will run 200 special trains from today and 400 tomorrow.

The only problem now is how to communicate this crucial piece of information to the migrant workers who are desperate to leave. I think, once 200 non-AC trains start moving from June 1 onwards through online booking, the migrant issue will be solved to a large extent.

Every responsible Indian citizen is worried about migrants walking with their family members on foot under a scorching sun. Whether chief ministers, or district collectors, or police chiefs or top bureaucrats, most of them feel uneasy watching these visuals almost every day. Proper communication is the need of the hour.

There are rumour mongers, with political agenda, working overtime on social media and there are dishonest truck drivers out there waiting to fleece the poor. If migrant workers get correct information about departure of special trains, I think, this issue can be resolved soon.

The state governments need to earn the trust of the migrant workers. UP government has made arrangements to run special buses from the state border to each district. 235 special trains will run to UP from several states. Migrants from Bihar can reach Araria, Saharsa, Motihari, Bhagalpur, Gaya, Chhapra, Raxaul, Darbhanga, Barauni, Katihar and Purnea in 66 special trains running from today.

If migrants exercise a bit of restraint, they can save themselves from being fleeced. There was this heart rending story of a migrant worker who was being transported by a truck driver. On the way he felt sick, but the driver did not stop. The worker died, and near Shivpuri (MP), the driver abandoned the migrant’s body along with his infants on the roadside and decamped. Police later rescued the children.

In Mumbai and Thane, truck drivers are making a killing by charging exorbitant fares from migrants. These migrants are then loaded on trucks like packed sardines. The truck driver then unload these migrants near the border and leave them to their fate.

In Ghaziabad, some truck drivers on Tuesday extorted money from desperate migrants promising them to take to their home districts in Bihar. In Vijay Nagar near Ghaziabad, the trucks were stopped, police disallowed drivers from transporting migrants. The workers had to leave the trucks. These workers will now be sent in buses after registration.

Rumour mongers are having a field day spreading baseless news on social media. On Tuesday, thousands of migrants assembled at Bandra terminus, Mumbai, to catch special trains. Many of them told India TV that they had got calls from people claiming to be speaking from police stations, asking them to reach Bandra station soon. Police had to resort to mild lathicharge to disperse the crowds.

A similar rumour was floated on Delhi-UP border. Thousands of migrants, including women and children, reached Ghazipur border to catch special buses promised on social media. Congress Seva Dal volunteers were also present as they had information that nearly 1,000 special buses organized by the party would ferry the migrants. Police had a tough time explaining to the migrants that no special buses would run without proper registration.

The confusion was worse confounded when UP authorities pointed out that out of the list of 1,049 buses provided by the Congress, only 879 were buses, 31 autos and 3-wheelers, and 69 ambulances, Canter, Tata Magic vehicles, cars and even school buses. In all 170 of them were not buses. State Congress leaders came up with buses on the Mathura border and insisted on carrying migrants. The state unit chief had to be arrested.

This controversy could have been easily avoided. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wanted to help migrants by providing buses, and she had every right as a citizen to do so. But her own party leaders were trying to show the UP government and its chief minister in a bad light. These leaders were openly alleging that the Chief Minister was not sympathetic towards the migrants. Naturally, the BJP leaders in UP came up with counter charges.

On the inclusion of 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers in the list of buses, one can assume that Priyanka may not have vetted the list herself. I believe, that both the parties should not bring politics to a matter that is purely humanitarian.

Even if some of the vehicles are not buses, or the buses being offered do not have proper certificates, the state government should have used the remaining 700-800 buses for transporting migrants. The Congress should also refrain from saying that Yogi Adityanath has done nothing for the migrant workers.

I have some figures with me: 1000 trains were used to transport 16,00,000 workers to UP, the largest number of 111 trains were for transporting 1,33,552 workers to Gorakhpur. Out of these, nearly 300 trains were run from Gujarat, 160 trains from Maharashtra and 123 trains from Punjab. 235 trains are on their way to UP carrying 2,96,626 migrants.

Apart from trains, Yogi Adityanath has run more than 12,000 buses. It goes to Yogi’s credit that by Using these buses he brought back 6 lakh migrant labourers and their family members to UP. The Congress must give the credit where it is due, and avoid unnecessarily politicizing a humanitarian issue.

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With lakhs of migrants returning, the writing on the wall is clear: the virus is spreading

AKB2610As the total number of Coronavirus cases in India crossed the one-lakh threshold on Monday night, there are causes for concern among public health planners. There was a single day spike of 4,713 fresh cases on Monday, though the recovery rate has improved with 48,908 recovering from the dreaded COVID-19 disease.

The pandemic has now entered the critical stage in India and all of us need to be on our guard. On Monday, there were reports of huge crowds in Ghaziabad, Meerut, Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad throwing social distancing norms to the winds. Just imagine how the virus might have spread among the crowds.

I would again appeal to all of you: please do not take the fourth phase of lockdown lightly. The government may have given relaxations, but this does not mean everybody should come out on the roads. This will be a sure recipe to disaster.

Several thousand migrants gathered at the Ram Lila ground in Ghaziabad on Monday for registration. They wanted to return to Bihar. Three special trains ran on Monday from Ghaziabad, while three other trains ran from other UP districts to Bihar. In all, nearly 7,000 migrants were sent in special trains on a single day. On Monday evening, extra police force had to be deployed in Ghaziabad to bring order.

There was chaos at Meerut station when a large number of migrants forcibly entered the 22 coaches meant for transporting 1,600 workers. The migrants jostled to occupy seats inside the special train ignoring social distancing norms.

I request all migrants: please do not panic. The Centre and state governments have now allowed inter-state travel by buses and special trains. Till now, more than 17 lakh migrants have been sent to their home states and more special trains and buses are in the pipeline.

UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, despite his excellent style of management, is worried over one serious trend. Migrant are being loaded in trucks from Maharashtra and Rajasthan by extorting exorbitant fares and then dropped at the UP border, to walk the remaining distance on foot.

At Palwal-Mathura border, India TV reporter found a truck carrying 65 migrants, including 20 children, who had been brought all the way inside a truck from Maharashtra.

Rumour mills are working overtime to misguide and goad the migrants to leave. On Monday, a mysterious message appeared on the cellphones of several migrants that special buses would be running from Vastrapur in Ahmedabad. A huge crowd collected on IIM road demanding buses to return to their home states. The crowd attacked police with sticks and iron rods and there was stone pelting. Police had to resort to lathi charge and tear gas shells to control the situation.

A similar rumour circulated in Delhi’s West Vinod Nagar and hundreds of migrants collected at a school to collect medical certificates for returning home.

On Monday, India TV spoke to most of the chief ministers about the migrants problem. Almost all of them agreed that the time for persuading migrants to stay home was now over, and arrangements must be made so that they reach their home states safely.

UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and others agreed that state governments must cooperate among themselves to ensure that these migrants return home safely.

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal came up with a new idea. He said, more than four lakh migrants have registered their names online till now for returning home. He said, the current procedure was time consuming. The recipient state governments must agree for return of their natives, and only then the lists are forwarded to Railways for preparing tickets.

Kejriwal suggested that migrants from Bihar, UP, Jharkhand or other states can be accommodated state-wise in different stadiums. There they will be provided food, and nearly 100 special trains can be arranged for sending migrants to their destinations on a single day.

I spoke to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal about this. He said, the recipient states must first agree to receive the migrants, make arrangements for their quarantine and arrange buses to take them from stations to their villages. All this needs to be fine tuned. I think Kejriwal’s idea is good, but it needs to be implemented with the cooperation of other chief ministers.

The Railways have so far run 1,530 special trains for workers and more than half of these trains went to UP. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has said that he is willing to give as many trains as the states want. He went so far as to offer a special train even at an hour’s notice.

With the rising graph of the pandemic, we must be ready to face a serious challenge. Transporting 14 lakh migrants to their home states is alright, but many of these migrants have become carriers of the virus. MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday said that even districts marked as green zones are now having fresh cases due to influx of migrants.

I am citing only one instance from Bihar. The number of Corona cases in Bihar has touched 1,400, out of which 652 are those who have migrated from other states. Out of them, 594 are those who returned in special trains on May 3. The maximum number of infected migrants (221) are from Delhi-NCR, 143 from Maharashtra and 130 from Gujarat. We must read the ominous writing on the wall.

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Life in metros will change completely after ease of restrictions during Lockdown 4.0

AKB2610The total number of COVID-19 cases in India shot up to 85,786 with a spike of 3,787 new cases on Friday. For the sixth consecutive day in a row, the number of fresh cases have been in the 3,500+ range.

In the world list of coronavirus cases, India is now in the 11th spot leaving behind China, from where the virus originated. China has reported 84,031 cases with 84 per cent of its cases confined to only one province, while the pandemic has spread to many states in India.

Mahrashtra is leading the list with 29,100 cases followed by Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Gujarat. According to one report, nearly 79 per cent of the cases are confined to 30 municipal regions.

Now that the pandemic is here to stay for a long time, preparations are afoot to ease the 50-day-old nationwide lockdown. Other countries have started easing lockdowns. Dubai opened its malls and restaurants, the Metro is operating in London and Paris, markets have reopened in Japan, cafes and restaurants are back in business in Switzerland.

In India, railways have resumed operations and airlines, city Metros, and markets are about to reopen, with strict regulations.

Life in the metros will change completely. Work in offices and factories, leisure time in cafes and restaurants, and shopping in malls and markets will be a very different experience during the post-lockdown period.

Social distancing will be a must for commuters on Delhi Metro. Commuters will have to sit on alternate seats inside the coach, and stickers have been put on the seats. The usual crowds will be absent.

The last Delhi Metro train ran on March 22 and the entire network has remained closed since last 55 days. All 264 Metro stations and premises are being sanitized and Metro feeder buses are also being disinfected.

On an average, 15 lakh people commute daily on Delhi Metro, but from Monday onwards, not all trains will run. Metro trains will run only on selected routes and stop at selected stations. There will be no more checking and frisking by CISF staff with metal detectors. The screening will be fully automated. Markings have been put on platforms, entrance, lobby, corridors, stairs, escalators and security area, and hand sanitizers will be made available.

Most of the chief ministers want public transport buses to ply again. In Delhi, there are 3,800 DTC buses and nearly 2,400 cluster buses transporting 25 lakh commuters daily. During Lockdown 4.0, DTC buses will ply only on selected routes. Only 20 passengers will be allowed to sit in each bus. Wearing mask will be mandatory.

Most of the state governments want markets and shops to reopen in orange and green zones. Delhi government has suggested odd-even formula, or three days a week, for reopening of shops in markets. Rajasthan government has asked the Centre to leave the decisions to state and local authorities. In Ahmedabad, cashless payment to vendors and shopkeepers is being promoted.

With offices, markets and shops reopening, and buses and Metro plying, the risks of Coronavirus spread will surely multiply. That is why, the easing of lockdown is being done carefully.

It is up to people how they follow social distancing and personal hygiene norms. Experts the world over agree that people with strong immunity can resist their body from virus attack. Yoga is the best way to attain strong immunity, and it goes to the credit of Swami Ramdev who has been teaching yoga and a healthy lifestyle every morning at 8 am in our show on India TV. These are not complicated ‘asanas’ and people the world over have begun following them.

Along with yoga, I can recommend daily intake of 3 to 4 litres water, preferably lukewarm, consumption of citrus fruits, putting a pinch of turmeric in a glass of hot milk and drinking daily, sticking to nutritious diet and avoiding junk food, putting a full stop to smoking, having a sound sleep for 6-8 hours at night, and if possible, preparing a concoction of Tulsi leaves, black pepper and ginger and drinking one teaspoonful daily.

Those unable to do complicated physical exercises during yoga, can stick to breathing exercises only like Anulom Vilom and Kapaal Bhati for 15-20 minutes. If anybody is suffering from dry cough and sneezing, there is no need to stigmatize such people. The virus can catch anybody and the cough and sneezing could be due to common cold.

Let us look forward to a new world post-Corona, practise a spartan and healthy regimen and keep ourselves and our neighbours safe and sound.

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Five big cities are now the hot spots, but a larger danger awaits in rural areas

akb0210The total number of COVID-19 cases in India crossed 82,000 on Thursday with 3,995 fresh cases and 99 deaths reported during the last 24 hours, taking the death toll to 2,646. Nearly 27,686 patients have recovered. It was the fifth consecutive day of the graph rising at the rate of more than 3,500 a day.

One picture is now clear: nearly 60 per cent of COVID-19 cases are confined to our big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Indore. It is now certain that the pandemic will continue for the next several months. With Lockdown 3.0 ending in the next two days, offices and factories will reopen, bus, rail and air services will resume, but the sword of Coronavirus will continue to hang over our heads.

Another point that is clear now is that with the massive migration of lakhs of workers by trains, buses and other means, the pandemic is spreading to far off towns and villages in the hinterland.

I spoke to senior doctors and scientists and they agreed that the pandemic is mostly limited to five states, where the situation is critical. On top of the list is Maharashtra. One out of every three COVID-19 cases in India is in Maharashtra, roughly 33 per cent. If you add Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Rajasthan to this, you have 73 percent COVID-19 patients in these five states, roughly three-fourth.

With nearly 60 per cent of cases presently confined to five cities, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Indore, we can control the pandemic if the situation is tackled on a war footing in these five cities.

A total of 998 fresh cases were reported in a single day on Thursday from Mumbai. There are 17,377 COVID-19 patients presently in Mumbai hospitals. 4,234 patients have been discharged and the city’s death toll is at 621.

Our Mumbai reporter Rajiv Singh went to city hospitals. He reported that there are three major hotspots from where large number of cases has been reported: Dharavi, Kurla and Govandi. The patients are being treated in KEM, Sion, JJ, Cooper and Nair hospitals, all COVID-19 dedicated.

The dean of KEM Hospital, Dr Hemant Deshmukh said, there is no shortage of ventilators, oxygen or beds, but the major problem is that patients are coming only when their health turns critical and they start having severe breathing trouble.

More than 1,000 cases have been detected from Dharavi alone, and so far there have been 40 deaths in that locality. Our reporter visited the 90-feet road from Dharavi up to Matunga, and found almost all non-essential shops open, people freely walking around in crowds and even elderly people out on the road. This is a sure recipe to disaster.

The state government is now deploying 22 SRP and three RAF units in these localities to ensure lockdown and social distancing norms. In Matunga labour camp, our reporter noticed all shops and markets open with crowds walking around.

The same is the scene, more or less, in Ahmedabad. In the city alone, there are more than 6,500 out of total 9,000 cases in Gujarat. Most of the cases are confined to congested localities near the river Sabarmati in the old city. Till now, 446 have died in Ahmedabad, out of 566 deaths in Gujarat.

There is a bigger challenge awaiting. Lakhs of migrant labourers who have returned to their home states have become carriers of the deadly virus. Fresh cases are being reported from far off towns and villages.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’, we showed how a 50-year-old migrant labourer Anirudh came out of a special train carrying 1100 labourers from Chandigarh at Bhagalpur station in Bihar, and fell unconscious. He was taken in an ambulance, but he died on the way. Authorities are carrying out tests of all the workers who travelled with him inside the train coach.

In Bihar, the total number of COVID-19 cases has shot up to 970, out of whom 352 are migrant workers who have returned home in the last ten days. Most of these have returned from Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat and Maharashtra. So far, more than two lakh workers have returned to Bihar, out of whom only 7,500 have been tested.

In Uttar Pradesh, 52 migrant workers have been tested positive in ten districts. Thousands of migrants have sneaked their way back to their villages and have evaded tests. Most of them could become a cause for worry in the coming weeks.

In the last ten days, nearly 10 lakh migrant workers were transported to their home states in more than 800 trains. The Centre spent Rs 11,000 crore on providing food to nearly 8 crore migrants.

So, apart from the metro hot spots, let us prepare for a bigger danger awaiting us: the virus spread in rural areas. There are thousands who have walked back to their villages bypassing all checks and quarantine. People in each village and small towns must be wary about the spread of virus.

Now that big and medium industries are reopening with the stimulus package from the Centre, let us all hope most of these migrants will return to their work. The Finance Minister has announced two months free food ration for each migrant worker, houses at affordable rents, ‘one nation, one ration card’ scheme for all migrants, and loans for street vendors. With factories reopening, let us hope, reverse migration will take place and these workers will return to their work.

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Harrowing tales emerge as exodus of migrant workers continues

AKB2610With the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announcing a Rs 3 crore lifeline for micro, small and medium industries and relief for income tax payers and employees in organized sector, the first steps towards Atmanirbhar Bharat have begun. But the exodus of lakhs of migrant workers still continues and it has become a worry for state governments.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Wednesday night, we showed shocking visuals of a man and a bullock tied to the yoke of a bullock cart carrying family members of migrant workers and their belongings. The video shocked me personally. I remember we used to see in old films how the cruel zamindars used to force landless farmers to pull carts or till the fields.

When I got this viral video, I asked our Indore reporter Babu Sheikh to check its veracity. He said that the video was taken by a local reporterPraveen Badania who was also working as a relief worker on Wednesday on the Indore Dev Guradia bypass. The Badania who was busy distributing food to migrants, saw a bullock cart being pulled by a man and a bullock.

The migrant family, consisting of two brothers, the wife of the elder brother and children, was returning home to Pathar Mundla near Indore from Mhow, nearly 25 km away. The two brothers had a bullock cart with two bullocks, and they were engaged in the work of transporting goods in Mhow. When the lockdown was enforced, their only source of earning dried up. They had to sell one of the bullocks to sustain the family. The family then decided to return to their native place.

Since the family had a single bullock, the two brothers decided to pull the bullock cart by turns. The elder brother’s wife also pitched in to pull the cart. When news about the viral video reached MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, he ordered officials to act immediately. The family was provided food and taken by police to their native place.

This is not the story of a single migrant’s family. Thousands of migrants are still on the roads, walking hundreds of kilometres to their villages. We cannot say that the Centre or state governments are not empathizing with the problems of migrant workers. They are being asked to stop walking and stay where they are, as industries and businesses are reopening throughout India. But somehow or other, there seems to be a lack of communication between those in governments and these unfortunate migrants.

Nearly 642 Shramik Special trains have been run by Railways till now and more than eight lakh migrant workers have been sent to their home states. In UP alone, more than five lakh migrants have returned. More than 200 special trains transported workers from Gujarat alone.

There are no definitive or reliable statistics about the number of migrant workers engaged in organized and unorganized sectors. A rough estimate puts the total number of migrant workers at 14 crores. A huge proportion of these migrants is still waiting in cities and industrial areas for factories and construction work to resume.

According to one rough estimate, nearly one crore migrant labourers want to return to their home states. Since it is difficult to accommodate all, thousands of migrant workers have decided to walk.

There have been several road accidents in which migrant workers have died. On Wednesday, a truck carrying migrant workers dashed against a stationary truck near Kanpur Dehat, killing three and injuring 51 others. These workers had pooled money and had hired a truck from Ahmedabad, to travel 1100 km to their native place in Balrampur, UP. Only 350 kilometres remained, but then the mishap took place. Among the dead was a woman and a child. The cause of the accident was overspeeding.

In most of the cases where migrant workers have left cities, contractors and employers are the ones who must be held guilty. Soon after the lockdown was enforced, the contractors collected workers’ wages from the employers and vanished. In many other cases, the employers simply refused to pay wages despite appeals from the Centre and state governments.

Now that factories and businesses are reopening and the Railways have announced that they would resume normal running of trains from May 22, we shall see signs of reverse migration soon. Sooner or later, these migrant workers will have to return to the cities and industrial areas for their livelihood. The battle against Coronavirus will nevertheless continue, but people will have to follow social distancing norms to stem the spread of the virus.

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Modi’s historic Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package will certainly build a new self-reliant India

akb2301In his address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a massive Rs 20 lakh crore stimulus package, equivalent to 10 per cent of GDP, to kickstart the economy which had come to a standstill during the 50-day lockdown.

Giving a call for building a “self-reliant India” (Atmnirbhar Bharat), Modi promised a new set of reforms focused on land, labour, liquidity and legal frameworks that, he said, would power Indian economy to new heights.

Modi said, these reforms will include supply chain reforms for agriculture, rational tax system, simple and clear laws, capable human resources and a strong financial system. The package has been designed to help cottage industries, micro, small and medium enterprises, workers, middle class and industry as a whole, he added.

The Centre had announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore stimulus package on March 26 when the lockdown was enforced and the RBI had also launched schemes to help borrowers and boost liquidity, besides cutting interest rates.

Lockdown 4.0, Modi said, will be completely different and will have new rules. Modi’s dream of a self-reliant India will certainly come true if we continue to have trust in ourselves, and have trust in our Prime Minister’s leadership. All of us have the strength, the opportunities are there, and the world needs India to shore up the global economy.

Presently, the world, as a whole, is unhappy with China and it views its government with suspicion. More than 200 US companies want to move out of China. Italian and Israeli companies also want to leave China.

If India provides good environment and support, protect them from ‘tax terrorism’, open up labour reforms, these multinational companies will surely come and set up plants in India. They will have ample raw material, cheap manpower and available land, provided red tapism ends in our bureaucracy, labour laws are changed and top quality infrastructure is made available.

Modi has the knack of turning a crisis into opporunity and I surely believe he will achieve his objective. Modi will surely protect foreign companies from red tapism and put a single clearance window system in place.

Normally big foreign investors will never say this, but the harsh ground reality is that there have been instances in the past, when cases lingered on in our courts, the entire law was changed, and big infrastructure and investments made by foreign companies went waste.

When licences are abruptly cancelled, contracts are changed, companies lose trust in the government. Modi wants to rebuild that trust. Trust can be rebuilt not only by the government but also by Indian companies too.

Let me put it frankly. If we want to do business with the world, we will have to change our mindsets about making a quick buck and compromise with quality.

Quality has been the hallmark of the world’s most renowned brands and the products that they offer are reliable. When they deal with Indian businessmen, they expect similar reciprocal trust. We in India can do this. It is part of our age-old tradition, our ‘sanskriti’.

Since childhood we have heard that business always runs on the basis of trust. We will have to bring back that trust so that the world can say that when Indian businessmen give a promise, they live by it and there will be no bungling. This level of trust has risen in recent years and I am confident that this will play a big role in bringing the world’s investors to Indian shores.

We will have to improve our infrastructure, communications, airports, railway stations, roads, and shipping to attract foreign companies, so that they can come here and contribute towards building a self-reliant India.

I am fully confident that once the wheels of Indian economy begin to move with the stimulus package announced by Modi, it will trigger reverse migration of those lakhs of workers who were forced to leave cities to return to their native places.

After 50 days of nationwide lockdown, the wheels of economy must now move. Service and manufacturing sectors must resume work and the demand and supply lines will have to be reworked. The threat from Coronavirus is not yet over and all of us will have to continue to follow social distancing norms.

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Exodus of migrants continue, but we must not fritter away the gains of lockdown

AKB2610The exodus of lakhs of migrant workers from cities and industrial townships to their native places continue even as the Railways have so far run 468 trains to transport nearly 4.5 lakh migrant workers to their states. Most of the migrant workers walking on foot are in a miserable condition due to hunger, sore feet and exhaustion under a scorching sun.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday, we showed a migrant worker turning nostalgic while singing a plaintive song expressing his desire to return home. The worker is neither weeping nor seeking alms, he is only expressing his deepest emotions born out of unemployment and displacement from his work place.

Nobody knows the exact number of migrant workers in India. Some put it at 42 lakhs, some put it in the range of four to five crore. Everybody empathizes with the sufferings of these migrant workers but the ground realities are harsh. Most of these migrant workers are out of jobs, they have run out of money and their landlords are pressing them to pay rent.

The migrant workers know that walking a distance of 800 km or 1800 km is almost an impossible task, but they have no other alternative. The challenge is two-fold: one, providing succour to those thousands who are already walking so that they can safely reach home, and two, providing jobs to those lakhs of migrant workers, who are jobless in the cities and industrial townships.

I get thousands of videos every day that show how migrant workers are suffering, but I fail to find words to express my sympathy. There was this woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, who walked nearly 460 km from Pithampur industrial township in MP to Lalitpur, near Jhansi. She gave birth to a child on the roadside, and fortunately the mother and the infant were sent to a hospital.

The distance from Nashik (Maharashtra) to Satna (MP) is roughly 1,100 kilometres and a train normally takes 15 hours to reach its destination. A pregnant woman walking with a group of migrants, gave birth to a child on the roadside. The lady recovered after two hours, and carrying her newborn infant, started walking again.

She covered roughly 175 km and after five days, reached Sendhwa with her group on MP-Maharashtra border. Police at the border checkpost sent the mother and newborn, along with another pregnant woman, to a hospital and sent the other migrants to a quarantine center. The local administration later arranged a bus to send all the migrants to their native place.

In Jaipur, India TV reporter Manish Bhattacharya noticed a couple with two children, sitting under a bridge and begging for milk from passersby. Local residents arranged milk, but this poor couple had no utensil with them. A broken earthen pot was used to heat and then serve milk to their children. The couple said they had walked all the way from Jodhpur, 350 km away, and wanted to go to Varanasi, another 850 kilometres away. They had meagre amount of money with them but they did not beg. When the couple ran out of money, the children started crying for food and milk.

On the Lucknow-Agra expressway, where accidents frequently occur due to speeding vehicles during pre-lockdown period, there seems to be an endless caravan of workers walking, some on cycles and carts, and some even in autos. All of them were heading towards their homes, mostly in eastern UP, Bihar and Jharkhand. Similar scenes were noticed on Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday had a detailed discussion with all chief ministers, his fifth meeting on the pandemic crisis. He appealed to them to take all possible measures to stem the spread of the virus to rural areas. He advised them not to fritter away the gains accrued from the lockdown.

Had the lockdown not been enforced in time, India’s death toll in the pandemic would have ranged in lakhs. Most of the developed countries had made such a grim assessment about India because of its huge population, but they were proved wrong.

The second gain from lockdown was that it gave ample time to both the Centre and state governments to fine tune their response. Quarantine centers, isolation wards and temporary hospitals were set up. Nearly 20,000 train coaches were converted into hospital wards.

Lockdown cannot continue forever. The pandemic may continue for three or ten months, or for two years, nobody can say for sure. That is why, the government has decided on step-wise relaxations in lockdown restrictions. Agricultural activity was allowed, essential shops were permitted, most of the factories were allowed to reopen, and from Tuesday long distance trains will resume operations. Buses may ply and very soon, air travel may resume.

The nation has followed lockdown restrictions to a large extent during the last 45 days. People are using maks, hand sanitizers and keeping social distance. But I want to add a caveat. If one hundred people follow restrictions, and one out of them flouts them out of negligence, all the efforts go waste. If we want to overcome this pandemic, we must ensure that not a single person should boast that the virus cannot catch him.

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