NITI Aayog Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Kant said on Friday that India could have “done much better” in handling the migrant crisis that has arisen due to a nationwide lockdown imposed to fight the coronavirus outbreak, NDTV reported. But he blamed the states, not the Centre, for the crisis.

“It is important to understand that migrants issue was a challenge because over the years, we have created laws which have led to a huge amount of informal workers in economy,” Kant told NDTV. “This was the responsibility of the state governments to ensure that the workers were well taken care of. In a vast country like India, federal government has a limited role. This was a challenge where I think we could have done a much, much better job of taking care of every single worker at the state, local, district level.”

Reverse migration of labourers to their hometowns began in March after the Centre imposed the nationwide lockdown on March 25. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers attempted to make their way over long distances on foot or in private vehicles. Some died of illness or in accidents along the way.

On May 1, following criticism from the Opposition, the Centre launched over 300 ‘Shramik Special’ trains to ferry migrant workers home on a daily basis. However, this has not stopped the exodus of workers from cities on foot.

The Centre had last week unveiled a special relief package worth Rs 20 lakh crore to boost the economy during the lockdown. It included measures for the welfare of migrants travelling back to their hometowns, but these were criticised as inadequate.

On May 19, the Ministry of Home Affairs suggested that states should make arrangements for rest places, food and shelter for migrants walking back home.

Earlier on Friday, 22 Opposition parties demanded that the Centre allow free travel for migrants. “The defining image of the pandemic has been the lakhs of migrant workers, many with children, walking hundreds of kilometres, without money, food or medicines, desperate to reach their home states,” Congress President Sonia Gandhi, heading the meeting, said.

The total number of cases of Covid-19 in India rose to 1,25,101 with 3,720 deaths, by Saturday morning, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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