A disaster or a calamity hits the poor more than the rich. This has been recently justified with the migrant labour crisis observed across the country. In the fight against COVID-19 Pandemic, India has been under lockdown for more than a month. While this has ensured that the virus does not spread rapidly in the country with high population density, it has given rise to uncertainty and panic among the daily wage migrant labourers across the country.
International Labour Day is an official public holiday all over the world in various countries. It is observed every year to pay tribute to the contribution of workers across the world. Considering the crisis faced by the workers globally, the theme of International Labour Day or May Day 2020 is Coronavirus as decided by the Trade Union Congress (TUC).
Problems faced by the Migrant Labourers in India
Migrant labourers and their families in India generally survive on a hand-to-mouth existence. They do not have any substantial savings that could help them on a rainy day. The lockdown because of the pandemic has resulted in the loss of employment for these workers. With no income and high expenses of city-life, the labourers are keen on going back to their villages.
Many migrant labourers in India live on the grounds of their work in temporary accommodations. As the lockdown has caused a shutdown of many such sites, the workers are stranded with nowhere to live and nothing to eat.
Uncertainty of life caused because of the outbreak of the pandemic has also generated fears among the migrant workers of not being able to meet their families. This has caused panic among them with many going to the extent of walking hundreds of kilometres to be with their loved ones.
Actions by the central government for the Migrant Labourers in India
The central government has authorised the return of migrant labourers, students, pilgrims or tourists who do not have symptoms of coronavirus to their home states. Additionally, in its order, the home ministry has asked the states to appoint nodal bodies and draw up protocols for the movement of stranded people. “The moving person(s) would be screened and those found asymptomatic would be allowed to proceed,” the government said. After arriving at their destination, they will have to stay in home quarantine for 14 days, unless institutional quarantine is advised, the order said. Buses will be allowed for the interstate movement of the people and they should be sanitised between trips, the order read. The rules of social distancing should be maintained in the seating arrangements.
The central government has also begun one of the most comprehensive exercises to map migrant workers scattered across the country. The government wants to create a database of millions of such workers to ascertain whether a relief package could be announced for the most affected segment of the workforce.
For the workers living in rented accommodations in cities, the Centre has issued directions to the district administration and superintendent of police to ensure migrant workers and other poor people are not compelled to pay rent by their landlords.
The government has allowed the migrant labourers in India to withdraw EPFO money advance and as on April 9, 149,891 members have availed of the facility.
The central government is also taking care of psycho-social issues in shelter homes where migrant workers are staying and experts and counsellors from Central mental health institutes are visiting them.
The Union government is going to launch an online portal for the migrant workers in the unorganised sector impacted due to a national lockdown imposed to check the spread of Covid-19 in India. The portal, which has been tentatively named by the labour and employment ministry as the National Portal for Covid-19 Affected Unorganised Migrant Workers, will gather the details of all the unorganised sector workers who are stranded in relief camps, residential or industrial clusters.
Actions by state governments for the Migrant Labourers in India
The Maharashtra government has announced a package of Rs 45 crore for the provision of accommodation and food for the migrant workers. It has also granted permission to the inter-state movement of migrant workers stranded in the state. In a notification issued on April 30, 2020, the state government said, migrant workers, pilgrims, tourists, students and other persons stranded in the state can leave for their homes within the state and to other states after following the procedural practices laid down by the government. Similarly, people of Maharashtra stranded in other states can also return to their homes by adhering to the prescribed guidelines. The notification said people who desire to move shall be screened and only those who do not show influenza-like symptoms or symptoms of COVID 19 shall be allowed to proceed. It said in the case of persons showing symptoms, the future course of treatment will be followed as per the standard health protocol. The Maharashtra government has also set up 262 relief camps for migrant labourers where they will be provided food and shelter.
Delhi government has appealed to the workers to not leave the state and stay put. For their benefit, it has converted several schools to shelter homes. It has also ensured that the workers at the shelter homes are provided with food and basic necessities.
Delhi CM has joined hands with Google Maps to help the people in need of food or shelter. The app is adding food shelters and night shelters to provide relief during the lockdown. It has enabled direct search feature for the shelters. The feature to find the locations of food and night shelters is a step to make this information easily available to the users in need, and ensure they can avail the food and shelter services being provided by the government authorities. The feature is initially available in English. However, Google is working on enabling the experience in Hindi as well.
The government has issued 11 Hunger Helpline numbers, one for each district in the national capital. The helpline numbers have been issued to ensure that people are not deprived of food. The Hunger Helpline numbers will be operational between 11 AM and 3 PM; 6 PM and 9 PM daily. The government has set up control rooms in all the offices of the District Magistrates in the city. The numbers are:
1. East district: 8375879007
2. North East district: 9136469416
3. Central district: 7428210545
4. New Delhi district: 7290978054
5. North district: 8595364814
6. Shahdara district: 8595269577
7. South East district: 7048998835
8. West district: 8595269589
9. South district: 9818523225
10. South West district: 9871662109
11. North West district: 8595552073
Additionally, for the workers who are adamant on returning to their home states, the government has arranged buses for them to ensure that they are transported to their destinations safely.
Uttar Pradesh was the first state to take action for transferring the migrant workers back to their home. On March 28-29, it had facilitated the return of around 4 lakh people from Delhi. The government has also ensured the return of about 50,000 people from Haryana and Rajasthan. Around 13,000 people are being brought back from Haryana. Earlier the government brought back 11,500 students of the state from Kota in Rajasthan and ensured that 15,000 students from Prayagraj return safely to their homes in different districts of the state.
In preparation of their arrival, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has asked the state officials to keep ready quarantine centres, shelter homes and community kitchens for 10 lakh people. CM Adityanath appealed to those stranded in other states to be patient and not start walking towards their homes. The state government has written letters to different states seeking detailed data on migrant labourers and workers of UP along with their names, mobile numbers and addresses as well as medical reports.
CM Adityanath has suggested that these quarantine centres and shelter homes could be set up in college buildings and must have a proper facility of community kitchens, toilets and security among other things. He directed setting up committees to maintain a vigil on those who are quarantined at home with the help of Nehru Yuva Kendra, NSS and NCC. He has also suggested that the assistance of women self-help groups could be taken for preparing food. The CM has also asserted that proper medical examination of these migrant labourers must be conducted before sending them back home from quarantine centres or shelter homes.
The state of Karnataka has made plans to bring back the workers that are stuck on only in different parts of the country, but also abroad. In order to ensure the safety of these workers, the government has directed that the workers can be sent in KSRTC buses to 40% capacity ensuring social distance and the workers should be mandatorily provided masks and gloves.
Acknowledging the poor mental health of the stranded workers and other people because of the lockdown, Helplines have been set up by National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) which work through Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) to address the depression and anxiety among the people. In the State of Karnataka, counselling has been given to 21,000 migrant workers. The counselling service is extended to those who are quarantined in institutions as well as those who are in isolation.