In a shocking display of ineptitude and lack of committment, the Ministry of Labour and employment stated during the Parliament’s monsoon session on September 14 that the government has no data on the death of migrant labourers during the lockdown! With this is also washed its hands off the issue of compensations.
This shocking revelation begs the question of how could a government not have recorded data on these deaths when journalists, shramik train officials and even local police had kept a detailed record of labourers migrating from one part of the country to another.
While questioning the government on labourers’ migration during lockdown, members of Parliament asked a series of questions one of which asked “whether thousands of migrant labourers have died during lock down and if so, the details thereof.” To this, the government replied that there was no data available regarding the matter thus dismissing the question of compensation as well!
Callousness or impunity? You decide.
This dismissal of migrant deaths comes as a sharp insult to those who had suffered at the hands of the government’s near-impromptu decision to declare a nation-wide lockdown. The Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) had closely followed the plight of these migrants in the Migrant Diaries series to portray the ordeals faced by these people whose lives had been turned upside down. Similarly, other media publications and channels had reported many stories of migrant labourers breathing their last at train stations and dying on the road back home. There were images of a toddler pulling at his mother’s lifeless body. Moreover, there have been stories of children dying inside shramik trains while travelling back to their home States. According to a World Bank report, the lockdown impacted nearly 40 million migrants in India.
An Indian Express report stated that 110 migrants had died on railway premises between the months of May and July alone. Before that in May, Sabrang India listed 267 migrant worker deaths caused by the lockdown.
While helping out the migrant labourers in their efforts to get back home, the CJP also talked to many migrants. One such migrant Mohammed Jamaluddin from Birbhum talked about how migrants were harassed by police who asked for either permission papers or bribes. He also mentioned that the local government bodies treated migrants poorly.
Yet the Centre has thrown up its hands and refused to compensate these deaths in an act of blatant betrayal. Furthermore, when asked for State-wise data on free ration distribution by the Government, Minister of Labour and Employment Santosh Kumar Gangwar said, “State-Wise details are not available. However, 80 crore people are being provided additional 5 kg wheat or rice and 1 kg of preferred pulses, free of cost every month till November, 2020 to all the beneficiaries under provisions of National Food Security Act.” If state-wise data is not available, what data is the Minister basing his answer on? Is there a way to verify his claim?
While it is unclear how the Centre will send this ration to migrants considering the complete lack of data, it said that the implementation of One Nation One Ration Card plan would empower millions of migrant workers from various organised and unorganised sectors to receive their food security entitlements irrespective of their physical location in the country. With the implementation of this plan migrants can get food security from any fair price shop of his choice anywhere in the country, said Gangwar.
Another member of Parliament asked the Minister whether the Central government thought it had failed in assessing problems of migrant labourers during the lockdown, including those in Tamil Nadu.
Regarding complaints of corruption in ration distribution the Centre said that action was taken as per existing rules but failed to elaborate further.
To this the government replied, “India, as a Nation, has responded through the Central Government, State governments, Local Bodies, Self-help Groups, Resident Welfare Associations, Medical Health Professionals, Sanitation Workers as well as large number of genuine and bonafide non-governmental organizations in the Nation’s fight against the unprecedented human crisis due to the outbreak of Covid – 19 and country-wide lockdown including Tamil Nadu.”
Despite such absence of data, the Central Government had a lot to say regarding its measures in the interest of migrants. It said the States and Union Territories were advised to maintain updated data of migrant workers to enable welfare schemes for migrant workers. It talked about the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY,) the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan and other measures taken up by other departments of the Centre.
However, these schemes cannot deny the fact that the lives of millions of labourers and workers were disrupted by hasty decisions of the Centre. The fact that the Ministry has no data of migrant worker deaths during lockdown shows the grave apathy the current regime has towards the poor.
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‘Lawaris’ or let’s just admit it, Children of a Lesser God