WHAT CAN BE DONE TO MITIGATE THE WOES OF MIGRANT WORKERS?
Treat them in a dignified way
It's painful to watch men, women, tiny tots and elderly people venturing out on foot, cycles, rickshaws, in asphyxiating containers and cement mixers to their far-off home states without having any food or eatables to eat during their arduous journey. The government is wholly responsible for their plight. We followed the European model of lockdown to contain the virus without giving a second thought to the consequences it could have on poor people and daily wagers. Much damage has already been done. We have a crisis of monstrous magnitude staring at us. Still, we can do a lot to restore the confidence and restore the faith of migrant workers. First and foremost, they need to be treated in a dignified way. Standing for hours under the sizzling sun for medical check-up and then at railway stations to board a train is strenuous and tiresome. The administration must make sure that they wait for their turns in well-ventilated waiting rooms and drinking water and refreshments are made available to them during the arduous wait. They are the real nation builders. We have to be sensitive towards them and try to mitigate their woes.
Set up shelter homes at colleges, varsities
Feeling betrayed and cheated, most of the jobless and penniless migrants are left with no choice but to leave for their home states. Local administrations have also failed in making proper arrangements for their transportation to home. The Centre should notify all universities/colleges with hostel facilities as shelter homes for migrants till their departure. To mitigate their sufferings, medical screening, physical documentation and ticketing should be arranged at these temporary shelter homes. District Transport Departments should ferry migrants to makeshift centres for their onward journey. A nodal officer must be appointed at the state headquarters to fulfil all needs of migrants to prevent their exodus. A 24-hour help desk should be formed to process the death and accidental claims of migrants on priority.
Deposit cash in migrants’ accounts
Had employers assured their workers of taking care of their all needs immediately after the first lockdown, they would not have left for their homes in other states. A previous experience of the 2008 economic downturn showed that those industries that retained their workers were quicker to recover. Most migrant workers send money to their family members living in other states. Owing to the loss of work or job, how will these migrants feed their dependants? So, returning to their home states is the only option available to them. They know very well that they are being provided food, lodging and other facilities only on a temporary basis. The government must deposit some cash into their accounts so that all migrant labourers and their families can survive this global crisis.
Don't force them to pay rent
State governments have miserably failed to check mass exodus of migrants to their home states triggered by the lockdown. At least, the government should arrange transport for them to reach their home towns safely. Those who are willing to stay back should be provided means of subsistence till the time the lockdown is in force. The landlords should not force them to pay rent for a certain period of time. A sense of belongingness should be created so that migrants do not feel isolated. They should not be coerced to go or stay back. They should be allowed to act according to their own free will. The need of the hour is to treat them with sympathy. The Centre has initiated several measures to alleviate the lot of the migrants but so far they have turned out to be futile and directionless. They should not be left to fend for themselves.
Tarsem S Bumrah
Ply more trains for them
The lockdown has affected everyone in one way or the other, but migrant workers are the worst-hit. The decision to send them to their home was taken too late. Moreover, government officials should collect data of migrants from all the cities like their name, address, contact information and their occupation, etc. Also, state governments should work in tandem with the railways to ensure the plying of a large number of trains in a day to the states, such as UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, etc. An adequate amount of food, water and a safe shelter should be arranged for those whose names are included in the waiting list. Vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children, elderly people should be sent to their native places on a priority basis. No worker should be forced to stay. However, if anyone is willing to stay as factories are reopening, owners should offer them accommodation, food and good salary. Cooperation and communication between states are important so that necessary arrangements can be made by those states to which migrant workers are returning. Everyone deserves to be with their loved ones in these difficult times, so every possible step should be taken to make their journey safe and hassle-free.
Protect their jobs in hour of crisis
The lockdown was announced suddenly and affected migrant workers the most. Some of the measures that can be taken to mitigate their woes are: provide them with food and other essential items to make their stay comfortable at places they are at present staying in, run special trains for those who are walking to their home on foot and take action against employers who fire workers during these times of crisis.
Compensate migrants for loss of wages
Before finding a solution to the problems of migrant labourers, let us discuss the reasons behind their pains. First, the Central Government did not have a data on migrant labourers residing in different parts of the country. Second, public representatives, such as MLCs, MLAs or MPs, are aware that migrant labourers are not voters in their constituencies and therefore, they haven't come forward to mitigate their sufferings. The task of rehabilitating migrants must be carried out by the Centre and state governments. The labourers should be compensated for loss of wages due to the lockdown.
Give minimum wages, medical facilities
Be it a big mansion or a slum, home is where the heart is. The sudden announcement of the nationwide lockdown has left several migrant labourers devastated. Rendered jobless, the only option they had was to go back home. However, they were denied this right. They took the suicidal step to go to their home states, some as far as 2,000 km, on foot. Their plight depicts the inhumane attitude of the authorities towards workers who make a significant contribution to the Indian economy. Their return has halted economic activity in the country. The Shramik Special trains will neither wipe away their tears nor benefit the economy. The government must fix minimum wages for the workers so that even in adverse situations, they are paid a fixed income. This income assurance will enable them to financially support their families. In addition, free medical facilities must be provided to them by states they are residing in as the labour class is more vulnerable to health hazards.
Take care of their urgent needs
Little do we think about the concerns of migrant labourers who play an active and strong role in our economic growth. Our top leadership, led by the Prime Minister, did not plan anything before announcing the lockdown overnight, especially how the migrant labourers will manage during the shutdown and what if they want to return home? As a result, chaos prevails and its dust will not settle soon. We can’t forget the many deaths caused by the chaos. However, it is never too late to act. The government must put the PM-CARES Fund to use. Many Bollywood celebrities have contributed to it generously. The states should also pitch in and a plan must be formulated to reach needy persons during the crisis. We must begin by taking care of health and other basic and urgent needs of the migrant labourers. The employers who have turned their back on workers should be encouraged to help them. Ideas given by several IAS and PCS officers should also be considered to devise creative solutions.
Rameshinder Singh Sandhu
The MHA has announced the opening of shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and places of worship in Lockdown 5.0. Do you think it is wise to open these places of high footfall at a time when Covid positive cases are on the rise?
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