Despite having an inter-state migrant workmen act, the labour department has not been able to create a database of these migrant workers, stated Punit Minj of Jharkhand Mines Area Co-ordination Committee (JMACC). He further claimed the unprepared lockdown by the central government has just brought to light the plight of these workers.

Answering questions during a webinar session organised by Centre for Financial Accountability, Minj said, “Lockdown was necessary. But the government was completely unprepared for this. The government hadn’t foreseen this (migrant labourers on street) situation which shows its unpreparedness. This has left so many starving.” Commenting on the gathering of migrant labourers during the lockdown in Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal and Kerala, he said this showed the failed labour policies of the government.

It is estimated that around five-six lakh workers walked on foot to reach their respective villages, during the lockdown. Around 22 people (migrant workers and their kin) have lost their lives in their struggle to get back home. Minj stated, “The workers and migrant workers were always exploited. Their number of deaths were always higher than COVID 19 deaths.”

According to a status report submitted by the central government, it is estimated that around 1.03 million migrant workers and other needy people are residing in 26,476 relief and shelter camps across the country, during the lockdown. He stated the state governments should take responsibility for the migrant labourers in their region and that there is no other option.

He reiterated the issue of migrant workers has come to the forefront now even though this has prevailed for a long time. “We have laws like the interstate migration act where registrations are mandated. But that does not happen. There are loopholes in the system and those need to be addressed.”

He fears that the worst for the migrant workers will start when the lockdown will be lifted and when businesses will try to exploit them. “Pressure on the unorganised sector will increase.”

Not just this, the public distribution system (PDS) is not robust. “Ration is not provided to needy people without a ration card. This came to the forefront due to the lockdown. But these issues have continued to plague the economically weaker section of the society.” It is estimated that the government has given food to around 54 lakh labourers and other needy people. Meanwhile, NGOs have provided food to 30 lakh persons.

People residing in rural India whose livelihood is dependent on farm produce are not facing any challenge right now. However, Minj claimed this will become extreme in two months’ time when they will not be able to sell farm produce in the market and would need money for other needs. This will be a bigger crisis, he added.

The article published in the Free Press Journal can be accessed here.

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