COVID-19 lockdown crisis for migrant workers: What states are doing
Some states exhibit higher standards of human values while helping migrant workers
By Umi Daniel
Published: Tuesday 21 April 2020
The Union government, as part of its response against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), imposed a three-week nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020. A large number of people gathered at Anand Vihar in national capital Delhi to take public transport to go back to their villages and home towns.
The migrant workers were, however, unaware about the fact that the lockdown had suspended all public transport until the lockdown was lifted.
A large number of the migrants and their families — disappointed and helpless — began undertaking their journeys on foot.
Media reports said around 20 people died while undertaking these journeys, with the Ministry of Home Affairs authorising state governments to use their disaster response funds, amounting to Rs 29,000 crore.
The funds would help states provide support to migrants by giving them shelter, food and medical support. Approximately two million migrants, however, are stranded across India, according to data from the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment.
This is where action taken by states can have a significant impact on the lives of migrants and labourers. Some states exhibited higher standards of human values while they extended support to stranded migrant laborers in their respective states.
The southern state has a long history of several thousands of its citizens working abroad. The policies in place for migrant labour in the state — before the pandemic — worked in its favour. The government chose to call the 3.5 million migrant workers stranded in the state as ‘guest workers’, to avoid any negative narratives and to maintain their dignity.
It also used its ‘Ernakulam model’ to reach out to workers through migrant community kitchens managed by them, a move aimed to provide food for them.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao reached out to three lakh migrants stranded in the state by addressing a press conference on March 25 and speaking briefly in Hindi. Rao assured migrant workers that the state government would provide them food, shelter, medicine and financial support until the lockdown was over.
The message from the chief minister was aimed as a confidence building measure among migrant workers.
The coastal state — that has experience of managing several natural disasters — took timely and proactive steps to address the issues of its own migrant workers who were stranded in other states.
The state government launched help lines and appointed nodal officers for key migrant destination states.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also personally wrote letters to his counterparts to extend support to Odisha’s citizens stranded in the respective states and also offered reimbursement of funds being spend on the stranded migrant workers.
The state government is currently attempting to help around 50,000 migrant labourers stranded in the state’s approximately 1,800 relief camps.
Approximately 600,000 migrant labourers from Jharkhand were stranded in 10,000 different areas across India, according to the state government. The Jharkhand government launched ‘Chief Ministers Special Assistance Scheme’, a mobile app to help with the registration of the stranded labourers.
The app is expected to help transfer Rs 1,000 as emergency financial assistance to the labourers. It is time for states to effectively develop mechanisms for the safe movement of stranded migrants back to their villages.
Inter-state coordination to exchange data on stranded migrant labourers and their safe transport is crucial.
Planned, orderly and effective management of mobility of migrants once the lockdown is lifted is also something that states need to urgently look at.
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