Migrants Return: What Is The Stance Of State Govts?

Never has there been so much spotlight on the ubiquitous migrant labourers in our cities as now, in COVID-19 lockdown times. Toiling away as construction and industry workers, vendors, safai karamcharis, household helps, electricians, plumbers and what have you, there was an upheaval in their world, for suddenly they did not belong to the cities where they had come to earn a living. Their long march back home with their meagre belongings tied up in potlis was reminiscent of the Partition. Heart-rending scenes of their predicament captured worldwide attention and became a subject of debate.

Following the initial thronging of border areas, state governments swung into action to make arrangements for workers of their respective states to come back home either by bus or by train. Bihar, Odisha, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Jharkhand are some of the states involved in the process.

Since most of the migrant workers are daily wagers in the cities, loss of livelihood is the most compelling reason for them to head back home. Those who own a patch of land or some other source of income in their home state still have some hope. Others stare at a blank future.

After the initial hesitation (in the case of states like Bihar), most of the state governments are eager to bring back their migrant labourers, despite increased chances of the virus spreading even though they are being quarantined. Although reports of the gross apathy by state governments abound, some of them have cleared their stance on migrant workers.

Odisha was the first to give a clarification on Saturday, with its COVID-19 spokesperson Subroto Bagchi saying that getting back its migrant workers was a preventive step to protect the Odias in case the spread of coronavirus further intensifies in June.

Around 12,70,000 Odias work outside the State in different sectors according to the 2011 census. Similarly, 8,60,000 persons from outside the State work in Odisha, said Bagchi in his daily briefing. Stating that India is a country of migrant workers, he added it is the moral responsibility of the Government to take care of them. While members of 16 percent of the families in the state migrate in search of livelihood, 92 percent of them work in the unorganised sector. 

Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar earlier this week, asked his chief secretary to ensure proper skill survey of all migrant workers who have returned to the state so that their capacity can be utilised in a better way after completion of their 21-day quarantine period. He said the migrant workers could make valuable contributions to the state’s economy. He also asked the officials to ensure regular monitoring of  all employment generating schemes.

Uttar Pradesh (UP) Chief Minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath also directed officials to act upon providing employment in accordance with the skills to all the migrant workers returning to the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the government is preparing a data of all the returnees based on their skills. The state administration is collecting details such as name, address, contact number of all the migrants who are now returning to UP due to the coronavirus crisis.

While assuring that once their quarantine period is over, all the migrant workers will be given employment at local levels at par with their skills, he said the government would utilise their skills to revive the state’s economy post COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Union Labour Ministry is preparing a registry that will include the comprehensive details of the migrant workers in the country.

Labour Secretary Heeralal Samariya said that the data for this is being collected from the states.

Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) national president C.K. Saji Narayanan said that his trade union had been raising the demand for a workers’ registry for long. He also demanded that a national policy be formulated for migrant workers.

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