The office of the Chief Labour Commissioner does not have any data on the number of migrant workers stranded across the country amid the countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus, the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment said on Wednesday.

The ministry, which was tasked with the job of ascertaining the magnitude of labourers in distress, made the submissions in response to a Right to Information query filed by an activist.

Applicant Venkatesh Nayak from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative said the Chief Labour Commissioner had directed its regional offices on April 8 to enumerate every labourer stranded in the country within three days. It further provided three categories – relief camps, employers and where labourers are clustered – on the basis of which the data was to be collected. However, the data continues to be unavailable with the ministry.

“As per the stat section is concerned, no such details are available based on requisite information,” the Central Public Information Officer, who was assigned Nayak’s application said. Nayak said the “cryptic one-liner reply” raises serious doubts about the availability of data about migrant workers despite the enumeration exercise.

Nayak said he filed an RTI after waiting for almost two weeks for the official announcement of the results of the enumeration exercise. In his application, he sought to know the state-wise names of districts from which data about the stranded migrant workers has been received.

The activist also asked the labour ministry to provide the district-wise ratio of male and female workers on the basis of states, occupation, sector of employment, along with the cumulative figures. “Given the widespread debate about the plight of migrant workers and the yeomen service provided by several government agencies, hundreds of NGOs and thousands concerned citizens to ensure that many of them were served food, water and other essentials, this information I believed has an enormous public interest dimension attached to it,” Nayak said.

Citing provisions of the Right to Information Act, Nayak said that when an applicant files an RTI online, the query is directed to the concerned Central Public Information Officer. However, if the department does not have the required information, the query is transferred to another CPIO which is closely linked to the subject.

“The Chief Labour Commissioner’s CPIO resorted to none of these actions,” he said. “He did not even send a signed reply. Most other CPIOs upload a scanned copy of their reply on the RTI Online Facility in addition to emailing it to the RTI applicant under their name and signature.” The activist has filed a complaint before the Central Information Commission in the case and has requested an early hearing.

Struggling to make ends meet amid the lockdown, lakhs of migrant workers have demanded permission to go back to their hometowns. Many have attempted to travel home on foot, but have been stopped due to the closure of state borders. Some have died on the way.

The Ministry of Home Affairs had last week allowed movement of migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and “other persons” by special ‘Sharmik’ trains to be operated by the Railways amid the nationwide lockdown. The first special train carrying 1,200 migrants left from Telangana for Hatia in Jharkhand the same day.