The plight of migrant labourers is not new in our country, it has come out in
limelight during this lockdown period, which has happened due to COVID-19. One
of the major reason of this plight is that the country does not have any data
regarding the number of the exact number of the labour force working in this
country, Central Government on March announced a package for the people of the
country in that package provisions of extra ration to 80 crore people was made,
Direct bank transfer (DBT) was made to a certain amount of people, farmers got
cash in advance, organized sector workforce got relief under EPF, states were
directed to use state disaster fund for providing food and shelter to migrant
The first version of lockdown so-called lockdown 1.0 went peacefully, but then
we don’t know exactly what happened, the scene of a large number of crowd
gathering was seen at certain places looking for means of transport to go to
their respective places.
When the lockdown started getting extended from time to time and that is when we
started seeing pictures migrants labourers travelling back on feet. It is a
shame for our country that we evacuated our people from a different country free
of cost even before the first phase of lockdown but our governments could not
see the larger picture regarding migrant labourers. Between the second and third
phase of lockdown, the Central government gave permission to run special trains
for ferrying migrant labourers to their respective home towns but in that too
politics took the center stage between different governments across the country.
Approximately 300-400 migrant labourers have lost their lives mainly because
travelling on feet or paying a large sum of money to trucks to ferry them back
and these have caused accidents across the cities and have led to injuries and
fatalities. State governments either failed to provide food and shelter to these
migrant labourers or as is the common tendency among humans working away from
their homes, we tend to miss our home, want to return home to our loved ones in
these type of situation.
So as the time started to went by, seeing that there might be no work for a few
months these labourers started demanding for means of transport and those who
could give money to the truck driver or any other source started travelling back
on feet. There was help in the beginning of the lockdown but as the cases of
COVID-19 started increasing the help for migrant labourers started to decrease,
State governments across the country could not help them, Bihar was one of the
states which started giving 1000 rupees to migrant labourers, stranded in a
different part of the country. This was done in the first phase of lockdown.
An important question arises as to why the government could not help migrant
labourers, why there was a delay in running special trains for them, why were
they not evacuated first
First of all, the Government does not have any data regarding migrant labourers.
There is no data which can show how many labourers are employed in the
unorganized sector of the country, which constitutes a major portion of migrant
labourers. One of the things that the government did in its first relief package
rolled out on 26th March, was increasing the daily wage of MGNREGA (Mahatma
Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) workers from 182/- per day to
202/- per day.
During the month of April 2020 30 lakh workers worked under this scheme, as
certain states were carrying out MGNREGA works during the lockdown period too in
places where there were no restrictions. This number of 30 lakh is way low than
average amount of workers working during this period of the year, in a normal
year on average 3-4 crore workers gets employment in the month of April-May. As
there is no date of migrant labourers they can not avail the benefit of direct
bank transfer (DBT) too.
Currently, for the year 2020-2021, there are 11.64 crore, active workers, under
MGNREGA. Job cards have been issued to them as well. And recently in the relief
package announced by the finance minister, 40,000crore booster has been
allocated to this scheme apart from the budged allocated in February 2020. This
will certainly help workers across the country.
I have seen many journalists, media houses talking about this crisis but they
have not done anything to help them, not even providing a one-time meal to those
persons whom pictures and video they have obtained to write their articles.
Many of these journalists could have helped as they can afford it and those
migrant labourers who can pay 4k-5k to trucks and other vehicles, can't they
wait for 4-5 days to get themselves registered for special trains run by
governments. Most of the Migrant labourers who have lost life is mainly due to
accidents happening due to overloading of vehicles. Those walking have faced
problems but they have been able to reach their destinations more safely than
those going in these overcrowded vehicles.
This migrant labourer plight has been present in our country from a long time,
the exploitation of labourers is evident in our country. This COVID-19 crisis
has taught us many things.
What The government can do now:
Government can help migrant labourers in two way; one is to go for immediate
relief and other is to prepare an action plan for the long term.
Long Term measures:
- Safely take them back to their hometowns and villages as early as
- Further Increase in the daily wage of labourers working in MGNREGA
- Increase the number of working days from 100 to 150 for this particular
- State governments should arrange for works for these labourers coming
back to their respective states when their quarantine period is over and
they are declared fit to work
- Data regarding labourers
- National register for Labourers, where all the details of labourers
along with their bank details should be registered.
- A system should be created where information regarding the government’s
plan should be communicated to them.
- Governments across the country should focus on giving work to the
majority of labourers in their districts or states.
In the long term, The government should view this as an opportunity to bring
about some major reforms in their system. But Government alone can not do
everything on its own, these labourers should come forward get themselves
registered, have their bank account, If any date for the register is being
created for labourers in near future.
Important thing: Labourers travelling on feet should take care of themselves and
their families, the government has started taking action and those giving 4k-5k
to vehicles for taking them back to their homes, should wait for 4-5 days to get
themselves registered in the special train rather than taking those steps which
are causing fatalities across the country
Note: We should help if we see some labourers walking, a meal for one time will
not cost more than 200-300 rupees for a family of 3-4 people.