Take care of Migratory workers to boost economy

DR VK Bahuguna

July 2, 2020, 09:55:47   

(Author is a retired civil servant)

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 24th March 2020 clamped the nationwide lockdown to fight the corona pandemic and the entire machinery of the government was galvanized by revokingthe National Disaster Management Act. As the country prepared to combat the corona pandemic, it however, immediately created yet another serious problem of governance on account of migratory workforce's panic reaction to the lockdown in the metro cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Ahmadabad. The central and state governments were already grappling with containing the corona spread after the Jamat members started returning home and spreadcorona in their localities. The government before announcing the lockdown should have asked the Labour Ministry to plan an exit route for the migratory workers who are the back bone of the economy of metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. A riotous situation soon arrived after the 25th March when the people were dumbfounded witnessingDelhi government ordering its bureaucrats to transport the migratory labours to Delhi border instead of creating an atmosphere for them to either remain in Delhi or propose a scheme to send them back in a planned manner. The similar situation was created in other states. The bureaucrats enjoy tremendous clout in running the government and advising the politicians to take correct decisions but in this case they did nothing initially. However, in terms of dealing with poor labours that brings happiness to the 'hoi polloi' in most urban areas the governance from top to bottom was in deep slumber and failed to visualize enormity of problem. The district level bureaucracy however, did extremely well in properly visualizing and enforcing the lockdown and contained the corona pandemic to a certain extent. Had the migratory labours been tackled carefully the corona would have been checked to a large extent or the cases would have been much less. For almost 15 days there was chaos on roads as nervous labours that live on daily basis started on foot to return to their native places and to cover a distance of more than 500 km on foot. An example of sheer panic and nervous breakdown and no wonder many died midway due to hunger and from fatigue. The problem was further compounded by political leaders of all hues who waited to fish in trouble water to provokeand misguided the poor migratory labours who saw corona as sure warrant for their death in the absence of job, money and health facilityin the midst of insensitive employers. 

The Prime Minister and the central government realized their mistakes quite late and started running special trains just when they planned to relax lockdown. As soon as they started returning to their states the graph of corona went up as they brought the corona infection to the nook and corner of the country and cases rising sharply. For example, in Uttarakhand earlier there were only a few cases in Dehradun and Haridwar but now the whole state is witnessing daily around 100 corona cases. 

The purpose of writing this article is to discuss how to avoid such situation in future so that our economy does not suffer. Most of the migrants fall in the category of unorganized work force and are employed by enterprises owned by individuals or self-employed workers and engaged in the production or sale of goods or providing service of any kind whatsoeverand includes a worker in the organized sector who is not covered by any Acts mentioned in Schedule II of the Unorganized Workers Social Ac 2008. The governmentenacted the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 to protect them but the mandarins of labour and other Ministries failed to implement the provisions. It is estimated that 31,000 crores are available under this for the building and construction workers. Similarly, labour welfare funds are also available. 

The Central government before lockdown should have asked all the migratory labours to register in the nearest government office and prepared a online list of such people living in cities with the help of State machinery. Based on this list the funds available for the welfare of labour could have been utilized to retain them at their work station. The employers should have been asked to pay their salary for at least 3 to 4 months with some support from the government.. Now the government of India has announced a 20 lakh crore stimulus package for the economy which also includes a package for migratory labours who have returned home. Had it been done 'abinitio' at the start of lockdown the economic activities would have assumed after all without workers industrial and manufacturing economy cannot work. Now the government has lifted the lockdown but people are finding it difficult to find man power to restart manufacturing units.  

Thepeople in the helm of affairs must ponder over the fate of 45 crore unorganized sector workers who are the backbone of 10 lakh crore construction, factories and agriculture sectors. The government should constitute a committee to identify the sector wise strength of the unorganized sector and their problems of livelihoods. The Building and Construction workers Act of 1996 had adequate provision made for the accommodation, crèche for their children, canteen, education and health but these were never implemented by the contractors and the government engineers and other supervisors though there is provision for penalty and punitive action. In the absence of unions they are not aware of their legal rights and at the slightest protest are shunted out. 

The government ought to direct all concern and create an enforcement regime to ensure welfare measures for the unorganized sector workers. The recent package announced should be used to create all facilities in urban localities as per the 1996 Act provisions. It would be desirable to frame a new comprehensive Act covering all migratory/unorganized sector workers. The employers needs be humane and dealt with strictly in emergencies like covid19. The corona crisis has shown that many big employers acted mean with workers. After all it is the hard work of workers that we uplift ourselves and labours deserve to live with dignity. We must remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi who once said” Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellowmen".


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