The Centre on Tuesday told the Lok Sabha that the mass exodus of migrants during the sudden countrywide lockdown enforced to rein in the coronavirus pandemic was roused by “fake news” circulating in the media that triggered “panic” among workers , NDTV reported.

The Ministry of Home Affairs was replying to an unstarred question from Trinamool Congress MP Mala Roy, who sought an explanation as to why thousands of migrants decided to walk back to their villages from big cities after the lockdown was abruptly announced on March 25.

“The migration of large number of migrant workers was triggered by panic created by fake news regarding duration of lockdown, and people, especially migrant labourers, were worried about adequate supply of basic necessities like food, drinking water, health services and shelter,” replied Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai.

The minister added that a database on the number of migrants who died on their way was “not centrally maintained”.

“However, the central government was fully conscious of this, and took all necessary measures to ensure that during the period of the inevitable lockdown, no citizen should be deprived of basic amenities of food, drinking water, medical facilities etc,” Rai told Lok Sabha.

He said that the Centre had “allowed the state governments to use the State Disaster Response Fund on 28th March itself” for providing temporary accommodation, food, clothing, medical care to homeless people as well as migrant workers. “To augment the funds with the states, the Centre released an advance Rs 11, 092 crores from the state disaster funds to states on April 3,” he added.

The statement came a day after the Narendra Modi government told Parliament it had no record of the number of migrants who died while making difficult journeys to their home states during the lockdown.

The Ministry of Labour and Employment said that since statewise data was “not available on assistance provided to migrant workers,” there was no question of giving compensation to the victims’ next of kin. However, the ministry did say that more than one crore migrants had made their way back to their home states from various corners of the country.

On March 25, India went into a nationwide lockdown that had been imposed with only four hours notice. The announcement left lakhs of migrant workers stranded in big cities without work. Hundreds of thousands of them then began long journeys to home on foot, sometimes over distances of more than 1,000 km. Some died on the way due to illness, while others died in road accidents. Many who made it back to their home states faced police action and were stigmatised by local authorities and communities.