COVID-19: Next 6 months crucial for Centre to support migrant workers

Centre should form a national task force with active participation of both kinds of states: Those who send and receive migrants

By Umi Daniel
Published: Monday 04 May 2020
The lockdown to curb the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has demoralised migrant workers and their incomes have been drastically reduced Photo: Pixabay

States that were once ignorant, casual and clueless about migrant workers, are struggling — amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis — to deal with the issues emerging from large scale reverse migration taking place in the country.

COVID-19 has forced state governments that have a large number of migrant workers to make estimates about them. Jharkhand was the first to announce the return of approximately one million migrant workers who are stranded in different states.

Next was Uttar Pradesh with an estimated one million stranded migrant workers and then Odisha, which estimated the number of its migrant workers stranded across India to be 500,000. Naveen Patnaik, the state’s chief minister, recently held a video conference with his counterparts in Maharashtra and Gujarat for the safe return of its migrant workers.

The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh also organised special buses to bring stranded workers back to their home states. Students, pilgrims and patients — who have to travel to different states for treatment — are also waiting for their chance to return.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs — from the state disaster response fund budget — allocated Rs 29,000 crore to help stranded labourers with their immediate requirements of food, shelter and medicine.

The Union government, however, is clueless about the volume of migrant workers who are stranded or waiting to return to the states of their origin and is yet to come up with a national level plan and strategy to facilitate safe and orderly movement of people to their respective states.

This was quite evident when — during a video conference call on April 27, 2020 — Patnaik requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a national standard operating procedure for the safe return of stranded migrant labourers.

States that have large numbers of migrant labourers lack the required resources and logistics to ferry all of them across India.

On the other hand, resource-rich migrant destination states — along with the private sector that has benefitted from the sweat and labour of migrant laborers — currently focus on providing relief support and are yet to help the workers stranded in such states.

The lockdown has demoralised migrant workers and their incomes have been drastically reduced. The states and the private sector that house migrant labourers need to bear in mind that their current help, care, compassion and security will undeniably boost confidence in migrants to come back to their workplaces once the lockdown ends.

Destination states and corporate houses, hence, need to invest, support and spend resources to conduct health testing of all the stranded workers along with sponsoring and coordinating transport for stranded labourers to their respective states.

The Centre should form a national task force with active participation of both kinds of states — those who send and receive migrants — and other key government line departments to work on the safe mobility of migrant workers and allocation of resources for protecting their lives and livelihood.

The task is not going to be easy once stranded migrants reach their homes. The states that get the influx of migrants need to utilise all the human resources, infrastructure, schemes and programmes they have to come up with both short-term and long-term strategies to support socio-economic, health and nutrition aspects.

The next six months are crucial for the Centre to provide both financial, policy and technical support for a long-term engagement with migrant labourers for providing food, work, livelihood and facilitating workers’ safe return back to their workplaces.

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