COVID-19: What about India’s migrant workers?

Rajasthan-based non-profit presented a charter of demands to union government demanding safety net for migrant workers

By Jitendra
Published: Monday 30 March 2020

Days after the Union government announced a Rs 1.7 lakh crore-relief package for those hit hardest by novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, a few voices surfaced claiming the needs of the most vulnerable — the migrant workers — were excluded from the package’s ambit.

One such voice was that of Aajeevika Bureau, a Rajasthan-based non-profit, which presented a charter of demands before the central government demanding safety net for the country’s migrant and informal sector workers.  

Since the lockdown came into force on March 25, 2020, millions of migrant workers were left without jobs. In the absence of transport, many of them decided to walk back home hundreds of kilometres away.

According to annual Economic Survey of India 2017, there are 139 million seasonal or circular migrants in the country.

Among the demands put forth were:

  • Inter-state coordination committee should be formed to ensure safe passage of migrants to their villages.
  • Legal cell at the central and state levels should be created to protect wages. Their wages should be transferred directly to their bank account. According to the charter, there were claims of non-payment of wages, forced leaves and retrenchments. 
  • Free and subsidised rations should be provided to migrants without the need for identity or domicile documents in urban and industrial areas.
  • Health facilities should be provided at panchayat levels.

“Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s economic relief package left out a major share of 139 million migrants who were forced to walk hundreds of kilometers to reach their villages,” said Amrita Sharma, programme manager, Centre for Migration and Labour Solutions at Aajeevika Bureau, Rajasthan.

The economic relief measures restricted beneficiaries under existing schemes such as MGNREGS, PM-KISAN for farmers, registered construction workers and daily wagers, and excluded migrant workers, Sharma said.

“Our conservative estimate is that there are 6 million people trying to find their way back home and are in dire need of state support,” said Sharma. 

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