Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Give them the daily bread

By RK Sinha

The task was big. It was not easy to send lakhs of migrant workers to their respective states in the present circumstances. Yet, the Modi government undertook this job with ease. The opposition, particularly the Congress, which considers protest against any new government’s move even if it it good for the people and the nation, the party dharma to oppose went against this decision too.In fact, it moved a step ahead this time. The century-old party which has lost its old charm and grandeur has also given a fake narrative that the workers who are without jobs are being charged for the journey. Actually, the cost has been shared at 85-15 ratio by the Centre and the state. For the party, there is no difference between the fact and the fiction .It has vowed to oppose Modi for anything and everything. Sadly for the party, he does not care because he has a risk appetite. Despite opposition he has implemented certain decisions which he considered good for the nation.

It has also highlitedd the plight of workers,apathy of some state governments and the bureaucratic insensitiveness .Some other issues have been also brought out.The problems these workers have faced are mani-fold.Due to the lockdown following spread of Coronavirus they became unemployed.The reserves they had were exhausted within a few days.The states where they were earning their bread allegedly  paid little attention to them.As can be expected in the circumstances ,most of them wanted to move out and join their families.Many a time they took to the streets to press their demands.Often they were misguided by the anti-Modi lobby and misinformed that trains were ready to take them home.They had to face lathis. Policemen in some states behaved cruelly.

Finally, the central government came to their rescue and many of them were sent back .The health protocol is being followed.They have been isolated and will be  sent  home after they are found fit.Some of the states have not treated them well.They have not been given love and care they deserved.After all, these  are the people who have helped them build bridges,roads and create other infrastructures which accelerate growth.They have moved out of their hearths and homes because they could not find enough opportunities in their states.Most of the migrants belonged to states like Bihar and UP.They were working in states as far as Kerala or Maharashtra.

The working conditions were not to their liking.The Coronavirus made the situation worse .Some of them had no food or shelter.It is they who were more eager to go home.Some others who had gone out for treatment or to meet relatives got stuck because of the lockdown.The government is taking care of these stranded people first.They are being sent in 1000-1200 batches.As the reports indicate, they received the worst treatments in states likes Punjab ,  Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.Thousands of migrant labourers pleaded to me on my Facebook account.They faced hardships of all kinds.A few instances will make it bare.

Many migrant workers who could not write their name in Hindi property or in any regional languages were asked to fill  forms to go home on their smartphones– that too in English. The helpline numbers provided little help.The conditions they lived in can be well imagined. A question may be asked in this light,why are they keeping smartphones then?It is to watch movies and to find something to get out of the daily woes.The time devoted is not much but  it is good for a change in mood and  to temporarily forget the worries.    

Lakhs of workers of Bihar and  Jharkhand were stranded in Ludhiana, Amritsar and Jalandhar in Punjab.Many of them have helped produce bumber wheat crops in the state. But state chief Amarinder Singh was more worried over closure of liquor shops. In  interviews given to  Punjabi TV channels he spent more time discussing liquor policy. He had no time to discuss the contribution of Bihari labourers to green revolution the state ushered in.Few others too paid scant attention  to them.Besides food some of them needed medicines.It was the duty of the state governments to come out  to help them.Some of them failed–and miserably at that

Workers were beaten  at some places including Surat in Gujarat.It is their country as well.If they were demanding food and wanted to go back,they were not demanding Moon.The police should have been kind to them,listened and persuaded to go back to their places.A severe punishment should have been given to the person or persons who asked them to assemble at railway stations during the lockdown.Hunger or misery,of course, makes a person do what he normally avoids to do .The workers had to  feed their hungry children. The Gujarat Police should have been more considerate,therefore.It was  unexpected  because the  Director General of Police hailed from the  Mithilanchal region in Bihar where most of them resided.He was hoped to understood them better and treat them kindly.

The  Modi  government’s decision to run Mazdoor Special trains,therefore,deserves appause from whatever angle it is looked .That will help migrant laborers return home.The joy of reunion can be well imagined.The labourers too will forget the troubles they faced during the stay.Normal life will be lived again.They will move on.Not all but some of them had walked down the roads to reach home.Some others had bicycled from Maharashtra and travelled hundreds of miles to meet their dear ones. There are some heart-touching stories.A group  which had reached the border of Madhya Pradesh lost a companion due  to heat and exhaustion.Similarly, a labourer walking from Punjab to Aligarh died on the way reportedly due  to hunger and fatigue.Many luckless laborers rode bicycles  from Mumbai to Odisha  to rejoin their parents.

Comparison is odious,but if it has to be made, UP and Jharkhand chief ministers  have stood out.UP chief Yogi Adityanath was the first to arrange buses to bring back migrant workers.As many as 10,000 buses were readied for the purpose.More than adequate number of  medical teams were set up for screening.Likewise,the initiative for the return of laborers by rail was taken by the young Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Hemant Soren, which is praiseworthy.

Now that the migrant laborers are returning home, the state governments are burdened with another problem.They will have to find alternative sources of income– and fast.According to one estimate,more than one crore people worked outside from the eastern region.They will pose a big  challenge. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that there is nothing to worry on the economic front.The fundamentals are strong.But the migrant workers have to be provided employment near their villages.That is not a small ask.       

One way of easing the situation is to  boost the cottage and small industries based on  agriculture. One district,one industry, UP plan may be useful in this connection.The unskilled labourers should be trained for the skilled jobs After the information about the skills of those who have returned to Uttar Pradesh , Bihar , Jharkhand and  Orissa a database should be prepared.The investors who are looking for skilled workers will make a beeline if they are told about it.Skilled workers are highly in demand.These states will prosper.So will the workers.This challenge can be turned into an opportunity.

These workers may be unwilling to go to states which have not treated them well.Punjab and Haryana may have to largely depend on harvesting machines.It will be  wrong to think that a poor does not  want to live  with honour and dignity.They  may  refuse to work with inhuman employers.There may be ,thus,serious shortage of skilled labourers in those states.Under construction industries and infra projects may do baby-stepping.The under-developed or developing states have been provided an opportunity .Bihar can make a good use of it to its advantage.So can UP.They can rub shoulders with Maharashtra and Gujarat–and pretty soon.   

(The writer is a senior editor , columnist and former MP ) 

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