(Juhi Aishwary, Journalist): Since the partition of the country in the year 1947, this country has never seen such a large exodus of people. It is estimated that the number of this migrant population from villages and cities to their homes is in crores. Railways are running special trains, roadways buses are carrying people, but the situation does not appear to be under control. In this background, it becomes very important to study the migrant laborers and the possible aspects of this problem, which we have to consider four aspects.
2. Is there any labor law that protects migrant workers in the places where they work for livelihood?
3. What is the responsibility of the state where the migrant workers are working and residing?
4. What is the responsibility of the migrants’ home state?
Migrant workers are unable to find employment at the local level, whether in industries, agriculture, or commercially. We have no calculation of the local skills of these workers living in villages. Some may have passed ITI, some may be motor mechanic, some may have done electrician, plumber, and mechanic or computer course. Their skills are not known. Local industrialists and real estate entrepreneurs try to fulfill their needs from other places.
If somehow it can be made mandatory for industrialists and business startups that they have to employ local talent first and only then people from outside the district can be employed. This will generate employment locally and they will not be attracted to move elsewhere. It should be the job of the District Magistrate and Revenue Officers to find out the skills of the village. This will remove the problem of migration. As for the second issue, migrant labor is classified as part of the unorganized sector, so they are not covered under labor laws.
90% of the labor in India is said to be in the unorganized sector. No records of these employees are kept. No one is worried about whether they should be given holidays or minimum wages. Also, there is no statutory medical facility. You see these people pulling down dhabas, sweet shops, rickshaws, or unloading food grains in trains. This is the reason that when the government wants to give them financial assistance or free food grains, it does not have the number and names of such people in the unorganized sector. There is no record of them. The solution lies in bringing migrant labor under labor laws.
The migrant laborers are working; the state government has its own responsibility. They leave these to care for the industries and local establishments where these migrant workers work. If the migrant workers are not getting their salaries and are being forcibly evicted due to non-payment of rent, then the state government does not intervene. If they do not have food or medicine, the local government does not help. To deal with this situation, the Disaster Management Act 2005 should make it mandatory for states to provide financial assistance to all such people up to 50 percent of their wages at the time of national disaster.
Ultimately, the migrant’s labor is contributing to the welfare of the state in which they are working. As far as the fourth issue is concerned, it is the moral responsibility of that state to look after the welfare of the migrant workers. Just as our embassies work for the interests of Indians abroad, similarly it is the duty of the home state to look after the citizens of the state. In this time of crisis, migrant workers should be asked to register themselves through the e-portal of the state government and should be asked whether they need any help at such times. There should be no interstate restriction on the movement of people and vehicles in times of crisis.
If people do not want to travel by bus, then they should be allowed to go on foot or by any other means. Footage of workers coming back on foot and being sent back by police lathis does not present the image of a welfare state. Under Article 19 (1) (d) of the Indian Constitution, the citizens of India have the freedom to travel throughout India. The Disaster Management Act of 2005 should not take away that right. Interstate and inter-district traffic should not be restricted except for medical precautions.