If there is any defining story of the ongoing lockdown that marks the contrast between India’s elite and poor and how bend the rules for the former, this is it: a Jharkhand MP returned to the state, traveling about 1,290 km by road from Delhi on Tuesday (April 14). It was on the same day the Mumbai police lathi-charged thousands of indigent migrant labourers who gathered outside the Bandra station in a desperate attempt to return to their homes.
Similarly, a couple of days ago another MP from the state embarked on a 21-hour road journey in his car to reach Dhanbad from Delhi, crisscrossing over three states.
Saying he had Delhi police’s permission for travel, BJP MP from Ranchi, Sanjay Seth told local reporters that he had undertaken the journey to be with the people of his constituency at this hour of crisis.
Surprisingly, till Wednesday evening he was not quarantined even though it is mandatory for any traveller under the latest regulations.
Dhanbad parliamentarian and BJP leader PN Singh was however sent into home quarantine on Wednesday, two days after he reached home from Delhi.
The MPs who were in the national capital to attend the Lok Sabha session had stayed back even after the session was over. In the meantime, the lockdown was announced and transportation was banned.
However, that did not stop them from returning and they travelled from Delhi via Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, accompanied by their drivers and bodyguards, sources said.
Though Singh was not available for a comment, the BJP’s Dhanbad district president Chandra Shekhar Singh said the MP (Singh) had returned late on Sunday night and that he was completely fit.
“I had been regularly talking to him. He obeyed the protocol for mandatory home quarantine as per the direction of the district administration,” the Chandra Shekhar said.
Politicising the events, Dhanbad Congress president BP Singh pointed fingers at the Delhi Police for giving permission for the journey.
“The rules should be the same for all,” he said.
In contrast to the ‘privilege’ enjoyed by the MPs, 88 migrant labourers from Assam, who were trying to surreptitiously reach their home fleeing in a container truck, were asked to go back in the same vehicle by the West Bengal Police after they were intercepted near the inter-state border on Sunday.
According to the police, the migrant workers from Rajasthan and Haryana were stranded in Guwahati in Assam. Out of desperation, they took the decision to travel home in the container, which was returning from Assam after dropping essentials.
They were intercepted in Falakata in Alipurduar district of Bengal when some villagers informed the police after spotting the workers inside the truck that stopped on the highway near the village.
Related news: Migrant workers gather on Surat roads second day in row
The Economic Survey of India, 2017 says the size of inter-state migration in India was close to 9 million annually between 2011 and 2016, while the 2011 census report pegs the number at a staggering 139 million.
According to sources in the Jharkhand government around 7 lakh workers from the state alone are stranded in different urban centres of the country since the lockdown was announced over three weeks ago.
Thousands of migrant workers cooped up in the country’s financial capital on Tuesday gathered at the Bandra railway station hoping that the train services would resume at the end of the 21-day lockdown period. But after prime minister Narendra Modi announced the extension of the lockdown to prevent further spread of the COVID-19, the workers lost patient and started protesting.
Last week hundreds of migrant workers — mostly from the eastern state of Odisha— rioted in Gujarat’s Surat, the hub of India’s diamond cutting and polishing industry, demanding that they be provided with transport to go home.
“The current situation at Bandra station, now dispersed or even the rioting in Surat is a result of the Union government not being able to take a call on arranging a way back home for migrant labour. They don’t want food or shelter, they want to go back home,” tweeted Aaditya Thackeray, a cabinet minister in the Maharashtra government.
(With inputs from Vishal Sharma in Ranchi)