Union commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal claimed on Thursday there had not been any starvation in three months of Covid-19 outbreak in India, even as migrant worker protests have been rampant across the country due to lack of food, money and travel arrangements during the national lockdown.
“We have gone through the entire three months without a single person starving. That’s not just the effort of the Centre or state governments. It is the effort of 130 crore Indians,” Goyal said in his keynote address at an online conference organised by Bennet University.
His comments came on the same day hundreds of migrant workers protested lack of food and transportation near Sendhwa on the Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra border.
Thousands of migrants, on the way to northern states from Maharashtra amid the coronavirus crisis, have been pouring in at Sendhwa in Madhya Pradesh’s Barwani district.
Eyewitnesses told the Press Trust of India that the migrant workers said that government machinery made no arrangement of food and transportation for them. In the afternoon, some of them pelted stones, but nobody was injured in the incident, witnesses said.
Shailesh Tripathi, who reached Barwani from Pune, said migrants, which included pregnant women, senior citizens and children, were facing a lot of hardship in the absence of food, water and transportation facilities.
A large number of migrants were waiting for food and transport on MP-Maharashtra border for hours, and people from Satna, Rewa, Anuppur and other districts of MP were also among them, he said.
Stone-pelting took place as some migrants felt after the buses left that there would not be any more vehicles for those left behind, but officials reassured them and calmed them down, he said.
The MP government said that about 15,000 migrant labourers were taken from Sendhwa border (Bijasen Ghat border) to other places in the past three days while there has been a huge influx from Maharashtra. Migrant workers were being transported by buses for free to Dewas transit point after providing them food and conducting medical tests, it said.
This is just one of the many such incidents reported in the last week. Food has been a major concern in the migrant crisis triggered in India following the national lockdown announced in March to combat COVID-19′s spread. (Read here, here and here)
A database compiled by researchers Thejesh G.N., Kanika Sharma and Aman showed starvation deaths had begun to be reported within a few days of lockdown.
Earlier this week, migrant workers returning to Bihar on a Shramik Special train got into a fight at Katihar railway station over food packets, The Hindu reported.
In Jaipur, 10,000 Muslim migrant workers from Bihar and West Bengal protested inadequate supply of ration, The Wire reported.
Last week, migrant workers on a train in West Bengal’s Asansol had complained of being served stale food.
People who travelled on the Central government-run Shramik Express from Punjab’s Ludhiana to Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh last week said they had received no food or water during the 11-hour journey. Many told The Print that the Punjab government had asked them to arrange for their own meals and water.
A survey of 11,159 migrant workers by the Stranded Workers Action Network or SWAN, during the second phase of the national lockdown, showed 50% of workers had rations left for less than one day, 46% per cent reported being with no food or money. More than four out of five persons had still not received rations in the second phase, Harsh Mander wrote for Scroll.
On Thursday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the government would spend Rs 3,500 crore on food for 80 million migrant workers over the next two months.