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Migrant labours

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 labourers.

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.

Immediate relief:
  1. Safely take them back to their hometowns and villages as early as possible.
  2. Further Increase in the daily wage of labourers working in MGNREGA
  3. Increase the number of working days from 100 to 150 for this particular year.
  4. 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

Long Term measures:
  1. Data regarding labourers
  2. National register for Labourers, where all the details of labourers along with their bank details should be registered.
  3. A system should be created where information regarding the government’s plan should be communicated to them.
  4. 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.

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