Connecting Regions of Asia.

Political Will Required To Solve Migrant Workers Crisis


Unlike China , Indian Citizens have certain fundamental rights. These include the one to move freely throughout the territory of India , to reside and settle in any part of India and to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation , trade or business.
Government does have power to impose reasonable restrictions by law. The epidemics has given some powers to the government to restrict movement to control  the Novel Coronavirus pandemic.
The much delayed  decision to impose Lockdown was widely welcomed., though many did not observe the rules of physical distancing . 
However , like the demonetisation , the decision was not well thought out and no home work was done to allow people to move to their place of comfort. So the Lockdown resulted in another unprecedented crisis  . Millions of jobless people got stranded far away from their homes. People travelling for treatment , business or leisure were also stranded.
This unprecedented situation demanded a quick evacuation plan which has not been put in place even after 50 days of the Lockdown.
 VANDE BHARAT is the well known initiative launched by the  government to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to the Covid-19 crisis.
 A lot of initiative and coordination is going into bringing our citizens from abroad. Nobody can have a quarrel with that. 
But it  is unfortunate  that there is no practical and efficient plan for the domestic skilled and unskilled workers living in eight  states of Bharat.  There is lot of grudge, ad-hocism even if we account for over 350 trains which would have moved over 4 lac such hapless victims.
This tends to bring into sharp focus indeed the great divide between the have and have-nots, the rich and the poor, the possessed and the dispossessed. 
While there is a surgical strike type of operation named and planned for the richer NRIs to ensure that they come back home from  5000 miles,the domestic migrants are nit so lucky. There is no  concerted plan to get them back home, even though the numbers are large and so need more efforts. 
The Aurangabad incident and the hiding inside cement mixers or inside onion sacks to be taken home just 1000 miles away are heartbreaking. It seems tge migra t worker, whose blood and sweat crafted India’s growth story, has not figured on planning boards and left to fendv for themselves.
They seem to have been been betrayed.
 Rich states like Karnataka and Gujarat would not leave them because that would leave them woefully short of labour when the lockdown opens and the poor recipient states like Bihar, Odisha would not take them as they could cause the Covid infection to spiral dangerously.
The courts seem to have diluted the concept of audi alteram partum – do not condemn the unheard – as the poor migrants were suddenly informed some 47 days ago that they cannot step outside their hutments with no future exit opportunity even though the Covid 19 patient count was merely 526 on March 25th and the migrants could have been given a few days breather to go home.
The rich states now want to treat them like bonded labour and that too without paying any wages except for some charity of free food which the self-respecting workers would wish to deny because it would be beggarly behaviour. 
A clutch of  mandatory steps are said to be required before a single migrant can think of being transported home and hence the on-going delay in fruitful efforts to help the million or more stranded in the seven widely known states of western / southern region. 
Let’s see how. An informed inquiry has revealed that the steps are as follows – 
It is the migrant heavy sender states who have to first make a district wise list of migrant labour they wish to send . The sender state has to vet  the list and the destination point to which the migrants would be sent.
 Then the  list marked with the destinations would be sent to the recipient state.
The recipient state has to consult its district machinery and the state itself as to the burden of receiving the migrants, the migrant state has to make interalia quarantine measures to contain the migrant reaching the district by transport to the quarantine spot.
The quarantine enforcing machinery has to organise the 14 days quarantine and prepare for a thorough check before release.
Then the recipient state would send consent through its nodal officer to the sender state for sending the migrants. then the migrant receiving state would petition the central government to arrange a train (typical capacity of 1200 passengers keeping physical distance norms), the receiving state would pay its share (centre says only 15%) for the ticket value of the migrants to be transported, on receipt of payment the centre will direct the Railways to arrange a train rake at the destination of collection.
The migrant passengers would be told (don’t know how) that a train is now booked for taking them home and would leave at such and such time to such and such destination – those not informed will be left behind.
 The penniless  poor migrant labour would procure a health certificate ( Coronavirus negative )by paying at least Rs 500 to a private doctor. The migrant labour would come to the platform and board the train in the presence of watchful officers.He  would reach the district of destination. The migrants would then go to the point of quarantine which could be district headquarters or village school / panchayat bhavan.
The 15 step red-tape is incredibly complicated. The Center often blames the states for not requisitioning the migrant special trains and the states are swearing at the centre for not fully cooperating. 
It appears as if we are dealing with different countries and not an Union of  States .
The political parties not in power are banging their desks that here is the money for the train and so transport the migrants without any further loss of time. 
The net result is chaos, more chaos and still more with thousands of  the migrants walking in their desperation to destinations  hundreds of miles away .
The government is lost in its bureaucracy as the ever increasing harsh summer temperatures takes a deadly toll on migrant  workets from from Mumbai, Surat , Bangalore , Delhi , Ludhiana to Basti, Bastar and Burdwan. The long march never ends.
So, what is the solution.  Actually, if there is a will, there is a way .
 The central government should in a video conference with the recipient states and sending states ( a number of whom have party affiliation or tie up) and in a no-nonsense meeting with the CMs of the states with a polite yet firm hand set out the task for the sending states and the recipient states .
 Key destinations for boarding outward journey are not many and so also the recipient districts are reasonably well known by now. No NSSO type survey or migrant labour portal is required at this stage for identification. 
The Indian Railways runs in normal times 15000 trains  a day with more than 4 crore passenger carrying capacity. What is needed now is only a pre-announced scheme of 1000 trains per day (and not the 300 odd now) for 7 to 10 days from 7 to 10 destinations from sending states to 7 to 10 destinations in receiving states with the recipient destination bus service clearly idrntifird  for the last mile linkage.
A These trains could be announced as SUMMER SPECIALS with pre-announced / fixed boarding stations. Most of all, there is no need to record the departing passengers as this can easily be done at the recipient station where there would be enough time to debrief the alighting passengers in contained areas for their onward last mile travel and quarantine requirements. 
The bureaucracy of this country is competent and capable to deliver.  it has very successfully and gracefully handled a big number  prisoners of Bangladesh war and millions of refugees in 1971 , even when the country was yet to achieve full self sufficiency in food.
Only the political will is required to put  the steel frame into action. Unfortunately that political will is now lacking. We can only look to the skies and hope that  the political masters will get the  task done without further delay , doubt or dithering. Then  all will fall into place. Let us hope better sense prevails before more Aurangabads happen.  
The working  class is a national asset, not a liability. They are the back bone of the society and the economy.  Ultimately they are the masters and have the power to make and unmake governments.  Our constitution has been adopted in their name , they pay tax to run the system.
Fortunately now they have learnt to bypass the red tape and the lathi wielding police . They are determined to walk hundreds of miles without food and sleep to join their families . They have refused to be bonded labour or majbur Girmitiya Majdoor. The soul of the Mahatma is silently guiding them to ignore unjust orders of an insensitive system , and move on  with courage . they may not have faith in the system , but they do have faith in their capacity to deal with hardships , diseases and disaster with or without government help. 
Some invisible power always guides them. they have faith on that invisible power , which created them.  But if the Almighty is to deliver, why do we have a state !
(Ramdutt Tripathi is a veteran BBC correspondent in UP, a legal consultant and runs Mediaswaraj news portal)

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