India: Coronavirus lockdown wreaks havoc on the poor

Delhi: The largest coronavirus lockdown on the planet is wreaking havoc on the poor in India as migrant workers fear for social security amid the pandemic.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to impose a three-week country-wide lockdown has triggered a mass migration of daily wage workers across the country. Thousands of India’s most vulnerable have started migrating from India’s major cities to their villages amids the lockdown.

With public transport suspended, daily wagers have been left with an only option i.e. to walk hundreds of kilometres to their local villages.

“It is better than living here with nothing and starving to death,” said a daily wage worker who is stuck in a slum with 70 other migrant construction workers in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and hasn’t been paid in 20 days.

In Chennai alone on Sunday night, when the first 14-hour lockdown took place, local government figures revealed about 4,500 workers were stuck at the city’s railway station unable to return home. About 1,700 went into relief shelters in the city. Another 2,800 are still unaccounted for.

The government of Uttar Pradesh, which borders New Delhi, sent a fleet of public and private buses with room for 52,000 people to a highway overpass area on the Delhi border where thousands were stranded.

Regional governments have been asked to inform migrant workers on the steps being taken in a bid to prevent them from leaving their current whereabouts.

In a radio address, PM Narendra Modi apologized for the impact of his decision to impose a nation- wide lockdown.

“Especially when I look at my poor brothers and sisters, I definitely feel that they must be thinking, what kind of prime minister is this who has placed us in this difficulty? I especially seek their forgiveness,” he said.

India has reported 1,071 confirmed coronavirus cases with 29 deaths so far. India has one of the lowest testing rates in the world and experts have warned that an outbreak of COVID-19 will result in an unprecedented catastrophe.