Migrant labourers should get financial aid too
The Centre has finally eased curbs on the movement of migrant labour back to their home States.
The Centre has finally eased curbs on the movement of migrant labour back to their home States. The lockdown has really curbed all rights of the labour who are confined at their workplaces without work or on the highways and towns far away from their homes causing misery to millions. This crisis should have been anticipated. Migrant workers in India always head home when they have no prospect of work.
This has been a pattern during any disruption, natural or man-made. In Narendra Modi's tenure, migrant workers have left their place of work in droves more than once, and most memorably when he announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in 2016. Establishments closed, construction ground to a halt, vendors and stall holders found that their customers did not have the cash to keep them in business. So, they headed back to their towns and villages, in the poorer States of the north and east. Going home is also what the Indians abroad who flew back were doing. The big difference was that the government bent over backwards to help the flyers. There were special flights, exceptions made to allow flights to land despite announced closures, and even special dispensation visas issued. These were people bringing more of the contagion into India.
But they were Indian citizens, or families of Indian citizens, and they had a right to be home with their own. What is shameful is that India, a welfare State on paper, simply refused to acknowledge that even the poor deserve to be with their families during testing times. They are walking home for the simple reason that they will get a roof over their head and someone will feed them while they are out of work. The makeshift tents where many of these workers were living before the virus struck have been uprooted. Indian has turned out to be cruel. Police won't let the labour on the streets. They won't even let them walk home. The Central government continues to insist that the State governments will take care of the situation.
The State governments are busy fighting their own fires. Thousands of homeless people are in need of immediate protection. Police actions to punish those violating orders have reportedly resulted in abuses against people in need. Many NGOs have moved swiftly to organise food and shelter for these migrants, but the scale of the problem is too huge to be solved by the efforts of a few good Samaritans. Anyway better late than never. Whatever might be reason, including political, for the Centre to lift the restrictions on lockdown, it is welcome. In addition to the transport cost, the governments have to equip them with instant cash sufficient to meet at least a month or two's expenditure. Only then they would be able to go back to their places of work. Industry flourished all these years because of their labour. If no labour works, then there is no industry. It is as simple as that. It is time the Centre and States' ponder over it and render justice to them.