Small steps could have prevented migrant exodus from Delhi | Opinion
Delhi will be scrambling to bring back the migrant workers when economic activity resumes and the city’s factories and shops reopen
Yesterday one witnessed an unprecedented situation at Anand Vihar bus station in Delhi where lakhs of people gathered, waiting for buses to take them to their home amid a national lockdown. Tens of thousands of people were seen walking on foot from Delhi towards Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddha Nagar districts of Uttar Pradesh. A huge crowd, in thousands, thronged the Delhi-UP border throughout the day when the whole country was under a lockdown. Some media reports allege that false public announcements were made in some parts of Delhi urging people to reach the Delhi-UP border where transportation, organised by the Uttar Pradesh government was awaiting them to take them to their hometowns.
This episode raises two very important questions. Firstly, when clear orders were there to ensure that people stay wherever they are, then why no action was taken to ensure compliance of the instructions to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus. And secondly, who is responsible for the mess created due to the mass migration of labour from Delhi.
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. People involved in the day-to-day working of the Delhi Government clearly point out that nothing much was done on the ground to stop the migration of people from Delhi. 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. The mass of humanity walking the Delhi roads to reach their home districts had a very sad story to tell about the government - whom they had very recently voted back to power with a massive majority.
Delhi is a city state which is far easy to govern as people are more aware, is well-connected by all weather roads and more connected through modern communication systems . The issue is - if we fail to implement the health advisories in Delhi , can we hope to achieve this in other more disadvantaged states. The government in Delhi is led by Arvind Kejriwal that spent most of its last tenure fighting with the central government for more powers. To tackle the present situation, they had every power they needed. They had the money to provide support to migrant workers, to provide food for them.
What the Delhi government needed to do 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 . Naturally, these employers will need to be reimbursed the amount they spend on their workers during the period of lockdown. Let us not forget that such a small step would not only have prevented the mass migration of the labour force from Delhi, but would have ensured that after the lockdown gets lifted, it would make it absolutely easy to re-start the economic activity without any delay. It seems we have forgotten that it is a matter of time when every economic activity, factories, shops, construction activities, offices will reopen and then we will be scrambling to bring back the same workforce.
The idea isn’t to criticise a particular government or a chief minister but to drive home the point that leadership is judged during the time of crisis. Fighting media wars, approaching courts to get more powers is one thing but showing leadership at the time of crisis, is totally different. And here Kejriwal failed by his inability to control the migration of lakhs and lakhs of people from Delhi and nullifying efforts to check the contagion that causes coronavirus disease.
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. The district administration of Ghaziabad and Gautam Budha Nagar, who with the help of UP Government, swiftly went into action and made requisite arrangements for the safe journey of these migrant labourers to their homes.
(VS Pandey is a retired Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer and retired as secretary to the Government of India)