Speculations have been rife about the possible extension of the 21-day lockdown ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision that will last till April 14, 2020.
The lockdown was set in place to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country. However, given the substantial rise in the cases of COVID-19 which has now crossed a toll of 1000, there have been rumours that the government is likely to extend the lockdown.
The rumours further received a major impetus when on Monday; Shekhar Gupta’s ThePrint published an article citing an unnamed government official saying that the 3-week lockdown announced from 24th March 2020 may be extended by a week.
In fact, the report further went on to add that another three government officials speaking on the condition of anonymity claimed that the exodus of migrants en masse from their place of work to their homes ‘is leading to a rethink the lockdown strategy.
However, Prasar Bharati, India’s public broadcaster refuted the claims and clarified that the government has no such plans in motion as of now. Prasar Bharati said that they got in touch with the cabinet secretary who expressed surprise at such claims. According to Prasar Bharati, there is no such plan of extending the lockdown.
FAKE NEWS ALERT 🚨
PBNS got in touch with the Cabinet Secretary on this news article.
The Cabinet Secretary expressed surprise & said that there is no such plan of extending the lockdown. https://t.co/CrLlp6f7X5
— Prasar Bharati News Services पी.बी.एन.एस. (@PBNS_India) March 30, 2020
But the order has left millions of daily wage earners jobless without food, water and money. Defying the lockdown, innumerable workers left big cities like Delhi and Mumbai travelled on foot towards their villages, hundreds and hundreds of kilometers away, due to the closure of all forms of public transport.
At least 12 men reportedly walked more than 200 km for four days from Uttarakhand to their villages in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, surviving only on a few biscuits and one meal. In Chennai alone, around 4,500 workers got stuck at the railway station in an attempt to return home.
The unemployment created by the lockdown, coupled with the fear among many workers of falling sick in the cities, and has forced people to take desperate measures to return to their villages.
The government on Sunday ordered states to seal their borders to stop the migrant workers from moving and asked authorities to set up shelters on highways where stranded people can get access to food and water until the lockdown is lifted.
On March 26, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an economic relief package worth Rs 1.7 lakh crore for migrant labourers and daily wagers. It includes a mix of food security measures as well as direct cash transfers for the poor to tide over the next three months.
Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba denied any plan by the Centre to extend the lockdown. “I am surprised to see such reports. There is no such plan of extending the lockdown,” news agency ANI quoted Mr Gauba as saying.
PM Modi, in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio broadcast on Sunday, sought the nation’s forgiveness for the hardships caused by the stringent nationwide lockdown, saying it was necessary because the country was fighting a battle between life and death.