- Almost 85% of its population working in the unorganized sector.
- mass movement of these migrant workers from big metropolitan cities to their villages.
- Reason behind this mass movement; if these workers stayed back in these cities, they wouldn’t have anything to eat as their work had been totally affected by the lockdown.
- By going back to their villages, they could at least have food to eat and they could stay with their families and hence, needn’t need to worry about paying rent.
- Steps taken to combat the issue of mass movement of workers from the unorganized sector:
- With no money, food and shelter, the workers have been surviving on shelter homes and relief camps.
- SC has stated that the Court cannot interfere with the policy decisions of the government and that no payment of money to migrant workers were required since they were receiving food at the shelter homes.
- Testing for Covid-19 would be free for economically weaker sections.
- Justice L. Nageswara Rao has observed that if the court passes directions as prayed in the PIL for payment of wages to migrant workers it has to start running the government.
- The government has directed all the employers of businesses to make payment of wages to their workers on due date without any deduction for the period their businesses are under closure due to the lockdown.
- Landlords are directed to waive the payment of rent for one month from the workers including the migrants.
- PM has stated that all the guidelines that shall be made now on, shall be made while keeping the plight of these unorganized sectors workers.
- PM has also pledged to look after the weaker sections through the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana scheme.
MIGRANTS AND UNORGANISED SECTOR WORKERS DURING THE LOCKDOWN
India is going through an extremely tough and challenging time amidst total lockdown which has been extended further from 14th April to 3rd May. These past few days have been the most defining moments for our country. India has pledged to send Hydroxychloroquine, the drug which is originally an anti-malaria drug but is being presently used to combat Covid-19. The country is being lauded for its humanitarian efforts by countries across the globe in such desperate times. But India is also facing criticism for the mishandling of its migrant sector workers. The most gruesome image seen during this lockdown is the image of migrant workerswith bags perched on their heads and children in their arms, walking down highways in a desperate attempt to return to their villages hundreds of miles away.
India is a nation of more than 1.3 billion people, with almost 85% of its population working in the unorganized sector (according to NITI AAYOG). And this lockdown has gone on to show that the life of everyone outside this unorganized sector will fail to carry out its day-to-day tasks without the latter’s help. While for the people belonging to the middle class or above that, this lockdown hasdefinitely been an inconvenience, but for the migrant workers, this has probably been the most challenging time. The day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced 21-day lockdown throughout the nation, the country saw mass movement of these migrant workers from big metropolitan cities to their villages. The most significant out of these was when migrant workers from Mumbai and Pune were loading themselves and their families in overcrowded trains going to Bihar and Jharkhand. Migrants in Delhi realized their grim situation and rather than sitting at their homes, they started walking miles and miles to their villages. The reason behind this mass movement was simple; if these workers stayed back in these cities, they wouldn’t have anything to eat as their work had been totally affected by the lockdown. By going back to their villages, they could at least have food to eat and they could stay with their families and hence, needn’t need to worry about paying rent. Many people expressed their anger towards these workers going from one place to another, but they have failed to understand the sad reality. The unorganized sector of the country has, undoubtedly, been hit the hardest during this crisis. Many have even stated that they may or may not die due to coronavirus but might die of hunger.
STEPS TAKEN TO CURB THIS ISSUE:
The presence of jobless migrants adds an extra social and economic burden, as they can do nothing during this lockdown period to be able to earn and in turn the government has to provide them with food and healthcare while taking care that Covid-19 doesn’t spread. Government has come up with several small-scale measures such as setting up relief camps for these workers. Even though such steps are being taken, a more comprehensive set of procedure is required. With no money, food and shelter, the workers have been surviving on shelter homes and relief camps, and if stricter measures are not taken by the government, the country could face a large number of deaths not just due to Covid-19 but also due to hunger and starvation.
Recently, a bench of the Supreme Court comprising of the Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Deepak Gupta while hearing a PIL by Harsh Mander and Anjali Bhardwaj seeking immediate payment of wages to migrant workers amid COVID-19 lockdown said that Court cannot interfere with the policy decisions of the government and that no payment of money to migrant workers were required since they were receiving food at the shelter homes. But what the Apex court had failed to understand that not every migrant worker had the privilege of a shelter home. The petition had stated that with more than 4 lakh migrant workers living in these shelter homes, it was “a mockery of social distancing”. He further submitted that according to their survey reports more than 40% of these workers did not try to migrate and are living in their own homes in the cities and now they do not have money to buy even one day’s meal.Chief Justice Bobde negating the submissions said, “We cannot say at this stage that they are not getting the food.”While the Supreme Court has tried to brush off the plight of the migrant workers, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has said in a statement that, “she was distressed by the plight of the informal migrant workers affected, many of whom were, in effect, forced to leave the cities where they worked at just a few hours’ notice, unable to pay for rent or food.” Although, one effective measure taken by SC is that on April 13th it was ordered that testing for Covid-19 would be free for economically weaker sections including those who are enrolled under schemes like Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan AarogyaYojna.
The Supreme Court has also taken up the PIL for hearing the plight of payment of wages to MGNREGA & migrant workers.Justice L. Nageswara Rao has observed that if the court passes directions as prayed in the PIL for payment of wages to migrant workers it has to start running the government.
Ministry of Home Affairs had issued a slew of directions to State/Union Territory Governments andauthorities in order to control the movement of large number of migrant workers stating it as violation of the lockdown measures on maintaining social distance. To deal with the situation and for effective implementation of the lockdown measures, and to mitigate the economic hardship of the migrant workers in exercise of the powers, conferred under Section 10(2)(I) of the Disaster Management Act 2005, the Chairman, National Executive Committee has further directed State/ Union Territory Governments authorities to take necessary actions and to issue necessary orders to their respective District Magistrates andthe police force, to take actions.
The government has directed all the employers of businesses including industries, shops and any commercial establishments to make payment of wages to their workers on due date without any deduction for the period their businesses are under closure due to the lockdown. Landlords are directed to waive the payment of rent for one month from the workers including the migrants. However, this has also been directed that landlord forcing laborers and students to vacate their premises will be liable for action under Disaster Management Act, 2005.The order also specifically mentions that in case of violation of the measures as stated by the Home Ministry, the respective State/ Union Territory Government shall take necessary action under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the District Magistrate/ Deputy Commissioner and Senior Superintendent of Police/ Superintendent of Police/ Deputy Commissioner of Police will be personally held liable for the implementation of the mentioned directions and lockdown measures.
It is worth noting that Kerala alone accounts for 59% of the relief camps and shelters even though the state’s population constitutes only 2.6% of India’s population. In terms of number of persons housed in relief camps, Kerala and Maharashtra together account for 72% of the total. Larger states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, which saw the most numbers of people moving back due to reverse migration in the light of the hardships caused by the lockdown together account for only 12% of the active Relief Camps and Shelters and persons housed. In terms of number of persons given food, two states- Haryana and Delhi account for 51% of the total showing the wide regional variation and the overall inadequacy of such facilities.
Prime Minister today in his announcement has stated that the hardships faced by the migrant workers in our country is the most painful and will affect the country the most. While keeping in mind that this is a crucial time for farmers as this is harvest season, PM has stated that all the guidelines that shall be made now on, shall be made while keeping the plight of these unorganized sectors workers. It is of utmost importance that the farmers face least problems as they are the backbone of the country. The PM has also pledged to look after the weaker sections through the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana scheme. With the lockdown being extended till 3rd May, it is critical that people start taking vigilance towards those belonging to poorer section of the society. The migrant workers are the most important element of our society and hence their safety and well-being is very important.