Hyderabad: On April 7, several media houses published news reports, which were evidently based on a press release, that Harvard university had praised the Uttar Pradesh government’s handling of the migrant crisis that emerged due to the nationwide lockdown that was imposed last year during March-May. However, an ALtnews investigation has belied those claims, as Harvard never published any such report, nor did it paise anyone.
Many were skeptical of those reports, given how the crisis unfolded, especially in Uttar Pradesh, which is headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht, aka Yogi Adityanath. The media reports, like this one, praised the UP government, without even verifying from Harvard university whether such a study was conducted or not.
A joint investigation on the study by BOOM and FactChecker revealed that the news reports were grossly misleading – the study was conducted by a Gurgaon-based institute known as Institute for Competitiveness (IFC), and not by Harvard University. While IFC is an affiliate of Harvard Business School’s Microeconomics of Competitiveness affiliate network, Harvard did not have any involvement in the study. Furthermore, the IFC study did not praise the UP government’s handling of the crisis; rather, it analysed the handling by the Adityanath-led government.
BOOM and FactChecker spoke to Amit Kapoor, Honorary Chairman at IFC, who dismissed the claims about it being a ‘Harvard study’ and praising the UP government’s efforts. “Our institute is an affiliate of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness (ISC) at Harvard Business School (HBS), and nowhere in the report – or otherwise – have we attributed the study to Harvard. So, it is inaccurate to refer to a study by a MOC affiliate as a ‘Harvard study’”, Kapoor said.
“The study is only a documentation of the efforts by UP using an analytical framework. Since it is not a comparative study, it cannot be said to be praising any entity. The study also provides recommendations to the UP government on future pandemic management,” he added.
Speaking on the methodology behind the study, Kapoor said, “In the study, we have assessed UP’s COVID efforts on three parameters: Migrant Support, Health Infrastructure, and Livelihood Opportunities. The study is a documentation of UP’s efforts since the pandemic began and is an effort to provide learnings for similar crises in the future.”
Upon going through the report, several observations were made on the UP government’s handling of the crisis. The report says that a total of 35,28,227 migrants have returned to the state of Uttar Pradesh since March 24, 2020. Out of these, 99.54% had moved back from other states in the country while the other 0.54% have returned from other countries.
The heart-wrenching and shattering images of migrant workers struggling to get home during the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown last year between March-May is still vivid in our memories. The entire county witnessed how the lockdown forced workers to flee home due to job uncertainty and financial baggage it brought.
Lot of families, in an attempt to make it to their homes and villages walked thousands of kilometres, some even barefoot while having to deal with starvation, death and police brutality. Many were outraged with the Indian government’s inefficiency in handling the migrant crisis.
What did the media tell us ?
The claim of a ‘Harvard’ study praising the handling of the migrant crisis was made by government handles and multiple media outlets. Esteemed media outlets like Hindustan Times, MensXP, the Free Press Journal and the Jagran also carried it under their own bylines. They cited a spokesperson for the UP government to make the claims, and called the handling of the crisis by the state government as “adroit” and “efficient”.
Times Now and Swarajya carried a byline by news wire agency IANS, who had earlier tweeted out the story as well – tagging Harvard University. BJP leader Vineet Goenka also shared the claim, while calling out the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government for not taking care of migrant workers who left for UP.
The report says that Uttar Pradesh has only 10 healthcare centres per lakh of population, the 7th lowest in the country. Similarly when it comes to the number of hospital beds and government doctors (per lakh population), UP falls in the bottom five states of the country.
Concluding on page 70, the study states, “Although the Uttar Pradesh government has taken steps to build economic opportunities for them closer to home using existing schemes as well as by signing new MoUs, it is important to develop a long-term employment generation plan. The plan should be based on existing strengths of the state as well as the skill set of the labour force”.
The study looks into how the UP government handled the crisis, it did not praise the handling of the crisis by the government. It shows how the UP government can handle and mislead media houses. Moreover, it also showed that mainstream media houses will not cross-check or question governments, and will rather publish such information, in spite of ground realities being evidently different.