India's prime minister Narendra Modi, while addressing in his weekly radio program Mann Ki Baat Sunday, March 29, asked for forgiveness from people as the lockdown measures had hurt millions of poor. Daily wagers, coolies and construction workers who are mostly migrants started walking hundreds of kilometres to native places as they did not have jobs due to the coronavirus shutdown.

Modi announced on Tuesday evening that India would be locked down for 21 days, with only hours to prepare for the lockdown, many places got panic-stricken. Since a few days, thousands of workers were seen travelling by foot to their native villages as transport was stopped; some did not have food for days during the travel. In view of criticism that there was no planning done to cater the poorest, the PM had chosen to apologise.

No jobs, no shelter for migrants

Among India's 1.3 billion strong population, many became jobless and hungry. Last year, the country reportedly saw a 45-year high unemployment amid economic slowdown. The lockdown has added to these woes now.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers the keynote address at the IISS Shangri-la Dialogue
Representational Image REUTERS/Edgar Su

In his address, Modi said that there was no other way to stop the rapid spread of the virus. The Wire reported that in prime minister's constituency, Varanasi, a group of children were seen sitting cross-legged and eating grass meant for cattle as fodder, out of desperation and hunger .

"Especially when I look at my poor brothers and sisters, I definitely feel that they must be thinking, what kind of prime minister is this who has placed us in this difficulty," said PM Modi. "I especially seek their forgiveness," he said adding that it was a battle of life and death.

All non-essential businesses got closed including a ban on public gatherings. One migrant worker died on Saturday after walking more than 250-km trying to reach his native village, a police official told Reuters.

Economic avalanche?

India announced $22 billion stimulus plan for the country on Thursday, including free food and cash, but concerns were expressed that it might not reach those who need it the most.

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics, wrote in a piece that more aid for the poor was urgently needed. "Without that, the demand crisis will snowball into an economic avalanche, and people will have no choice but to defy orders," they wrote.

India has reported more than 1,000 cases of coronavirus and 25 deaths as of Sunday. Testing rates in India have been abysmally low, and experts believe real cases of coronavirus may be far more than reported, resulting in a catastrophe.