Indian migrant workers during the pandemic have absorbed numerous hardships. With workplaces and factories shut down due to the lockdown inflicted in the country, millions of migrant workers had to deal with uncertainty about their future, the loss of income, and food shortages. Following this phase, many of them and their family people went hungry. Many of the crowd then started walking back home, with no means of transport due to the lockdown. In response, Governments took various steps to cover them and later arranged transport for them.
BACKGROUND. Migrant workers comprise majorly of daily-wage labourers working in the construction and manufacturing industries. They are often refused adequate nutrition, healthcare, sanitation and housing since many of them work in the informal sector. They are mostly from rural zones but live in cities for work purpose for most of the year. Thousands of them have no savings and lived in a factory dorm room, which was closed due to the lockdown. Despite the existence of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 as additionally, there was no central registry of migrant workers.
Maharashtra has a wide-reaching number of migrants, according to the 2011 Census of India. The state government forced a lockdown in March in many cities leaving the migrant workers with no job work. Thousands then gathered at the bus and train stations, seeking transport to their home place. All transport facilities were closed with the nationwide lockdown
FOOD SHORTAGES. It has been stated in Parliament that indicated an estimated 11 million migrants had made an effort to return home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and consequent lockdown. With no money and work, and lockdown restrictions putting a block to public transport, thousands of migrant workers were seen bicycling or walking thousands of kilometres to go back to their local villages, some with their family members. Social distancing was not possible for these migrants since they travelled together in big groups.
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE. The Home Ministry permitting the states to use the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) for providing food and shelter to the migrants.
RELIEF CAMPS. Soon after the central government instructed in late March, state governments set up camps to house thousands of migrants and stop the exodus. Delhi government provided a free meal to lakhs of people every day. Over thousands of hunger relief centres were established by the Delhi government. Around 75 lakh people were being provided meal across the nation in food camps run by the NGOs and government.
TRANSPORT ARRANGEMENTS. 91 lakh migrants had travelled back to their villages in government-arranged transport services. However, according to the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN), some migrants were chaotic about the right procedure to register themselves for travel. Additionally, some state registration portals were either in the local language of the places they lived in or in English, which migrants workers could relate to. Further, general information from the government to the migrants had resulted in them paying a small amount of cash to register themselves.
SHRAMIK SPECIAL TRAINS. Last year, the central government allowed the Indian Railways to set in motion Shramik Special trains for the migrant workers and others helpless. The trains were essentially mainly meant for those who were dry due to the sudden lockdown, and not the migrants. The government declared that the Railways would give an 85% subsidy on the train fares, with the state governments capitalize the remaining 15%. The central government turn down to share the details associated with the Supreme Court.
BUSES. The Uttar Pradesh government marked to set out buses at Delhi's Anand Vihar bus station to take the migrants back to their home town for free. Large crowds then gathered at the bus station. However, with the extension of the lockdown, many remained helpless till April, when the state governments were allowed by the central government to operate buses, but not trains. Almost 40 lakh migrants had travelled to their villages by buses. Conditions in the buses are mostly okay, with social distancing being a little bit possible due to overcrowding and lower fares being charged as promised.
PRESENT SCENARIO. This time, migrant workers are taking no chances. In Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, they are this time queueing up at train reservation counters. I have bought a ticket for next month, says Kumar(migrant worker). I wish the trains don’t get cancelled. Interstate buses and trains will keep plying during the lockdown in Delhi, so that will be a great relief. Back home, the central government has already requested the migrants to return fast in the backdrop of the raging second wave of Covid, saying the Indian government will arrange work for them.
The central government sanction three Codes – The Codes afforded considerable flexibility to contractors and employers by sparing more establishments from regulations concerning retrenchment and closure, standing orders, contract labour welfare, safety and health, etc. The Codes gives some profits to the working-class like trade union recognition, universal minimum wage, wider definition of migrant workers, social security for platform and gig workers, etc.