An issue of lives versus livelihoods
NEWS That the situations faced by India’s migrants are not a matter of concern in policy making is quite apparent.
- With the continuation of the second wave of the pandemic, strict to moderate lockdowns are being imposed again.
- This has led to the termination of jobs in many establishments employing large numbers of informal workers.
- Of those employed in the informal category, large numbers include migrants who face a bleak future, with job losses, loss of rented accommodations, a lack of sustainable income and savings to ensure food, transportation back to villages or any other emergency including falling victim to COVI-19.
DILEMMA FOR MIGRANTS
- Given their bitter experiences last year, migrants have already begun their journeys back to villages, paying exorbitant sums for their travel.
- On the contrary, even villages do not provide bright prospects for them.
- Instead it was the state of rural distress in the first place which pushed them to seek a better future in the urban areas.
- Adding on to their woes, the allotments under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act have been shrunk by the government.
- With multiple issues of serious sufferings on account of COVID-19- related distress, the country has less time to discuss the fate of migrants.
- That the situations faced by migrants are not a matter of concern in policy making is quite apparent.
- There has been no attempt to have an official estimate of such flows, either incoming or reverse.
- No visible measures are taken to redress the miseries that await the returning migrants. The recent official announcement of free ration of 5 kg cereals to 80 crore families is the only sop visible so far.
QUESTIONS FOR THE STATE
- The presence of the rural migrants benefited the urban economy by providing cheap labour to manufacturing units and cheap services to households.
- However, these jobs provided did not entail further obligations on the part of the employers or the state, given that the ‘footloose’ migrants never had any legal status as a working population.
- Hence, if the measure of using lockdowns and curfews to save lives, simultaneously take away the means of livelihood for the rootless and roofless migrants, it would have been more fair to provide for some short-term relief for these workers and their families.
NO LABOUR SAFEGUARDS
- Pieces of legislation, as available, do not provide any evidence of addressing the issue especially in the current crisis.
- The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 conferred on casual labour a legal status by providing a mechanism for registration of contractors engaging 20 or more workers.
- While it was never effective, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 has replaced all such Acts.
- Seeking to regulate the health and safety conditions of workers in establishments with 10 or more workers, the Code has replaced 13 prevailing labour laws.
- There is an urgent need to contemplate on the question- Can we justify the situation as a step to save lives when it does not work for large sections of migrant people who also experience a loss of their livelihoods at the same time?
- The present situation demands administrative oversight and execution of laws and policies that could provide basic safeguards to migrant workers before sending them off to a bleak future.
View all comments