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The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has filed an application to the Supreme Court that seeks to intervene in Suo Motu cognizance based on six different reports, in the matter of the plight of the migrant workers who have been stranded in various parts of the country amidst the Covid-19 lockdown. The NHRC’s function is to intervene in any proceeding that involves any allegation of violation of human rights pending before a curt. Through its application, the NHRC re-examines the existing laws governing human rights protection of migrants and suggest short as well as long term measures for effective implementation under these rights.
- Collection of data of migrant workers at the point of departure from one state and on the arrival in the destination state, in order to estimate the in-flow of migrant workers.
- The Union and State Governments must ensure a strict implementation of the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, that provide a journey allowance to the workers.
- Menstrual hygiene products should be provided to migrant women and adolescent girls across the country.
- Proper functioning of shelter homes with medical facilities and nutritious food especially for pregnant or lactating mothers, children and the elderly.
- Each state is directed and identified by the industry the migrant labourers work in, it will aid in the creation of schemes for migrant workers as well as create a nationwide database.
- Medical facilities and check-ups for migrants before and after the journey, as well as availability of food and medical care during the journey. For migrants who are travelling via bicycles or walking, food and water amenities must be available en route.
- Originating states should take steps to identify the destitute among the travelling migrants and ensure that they are paid a compensation so that they do not have to resort to begging after their journey.
- A fund must be created for the payment of ex-gratia relief, that will provide compensation to every migrant returning home.
Long term measures:
- A special provision must be added to the Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 that deals with emergency situations such as the Covid-19 pandemic or other natural disasters.
- Appointment of a claim commissioner to keep check on the recovery of labourers who abandoned their jobs despite notification for continuity of wages by the Central Government.
- An allocation of funds must be given to states to create employment opportunities in gram panchayats.
- A national portal for the registration of migrants to maintain a database.
- Compensation to the families of those migrants who died travelling migrating to their respective states.
- A universal ration card must be granted to all migrants.
- Implementation of the provisions of the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 that extends maximum benefits to migrant labourers.
- Creation of a nodal agency under the Ministry of Labour that seeks to resolve inter-state migration disputes.
Background of the issue
Migrants labourers are seldom provided with adequate monetary payment for the hardwork they endure. The pandemic induced lockdown has worsened the plight of the migrants. The Indian Express reported that about 20 workers who were walking from Jalna to Bhusawal stopped for a rest and fell asleep on the railway tracks when, a goods train ran over them.
HW News reported that a pregnant woman, who was walking on foot from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh, had to deliver her baby on road. The clothes and essentials were provided by a family from Dhule, Maharashtra. She resumed walking merely two hours later.
The Indian Express and the Millennium Post published a picture of a little boy who had fallen asleep on a suitcase being pulled by his mother, a migrant worker, who had started her journey from Punjab to reach home in Jhansi. The apathy of the states can be seen in their negligence to ensure measures for the safety of migrant workers.
Significance of recent developments
The increase in awareness of the plight of the migrant workers has brought about significant improvements. The Youth for Social Development, an NGO, provided women and adolescent migrant workers who were walking on the NH16 with menstrual hygiene products along with food and other relief material.
The State of Odisha has set up a toll-free Shramik (labour force) Sahayata Helpline, Migrant Labour Desk, as well as seasonal hostels for the children of migrant workers. The State has also taken measures to strengthen Anti-Human Trafficking Units.
It is a matter of concern that as many of 40% of Shramik trains are late, with an average delay of 8 hours. The Vande Bharat Mission is dedicated to help migrants reach their source destination.
The Government has announced its initiative to launch affordable rental housing for migrant workers and the urban poor by converting government- funded housing in cities into Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHC). This would be carried through PPP mode.
Further, in the matter of National Campaign for Central Legislation on Construction Labour v Union of India & Others, 2018, it was reported that the Ministry of Labour and Employment has proposed the issuance of a Universal Access Number for construction workers. The registration process will be simple to ensure that it is well within the understanding capability of the average migrant worker.
The instance of the death of migrant workers who were run over by a train, has taken as a tragic accident. Whereas, the truth of the matter is that the provisions regarding accommodation, as provided under the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation and Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 have been severe ignored, and this has resorted to a helpless situation for the tired migrant who has to resort to the railway tracks for shelter.
This instance also brings into notice that the migrant workers had additional expenses: they travel a long distance in order to get to the place of work and then need to travel back home. The amount of payment they receive from long hours of work is usually minimum wage that they need to support their families with. This wage is not enough for a travel fare and therefore, they resort to walking from one state to another. Most of the workers are not educated enough to realise that they are victims to numerous human rights violations. It is upon the government they have entrusted their trust upon. Any form of negligence from the government authorities is simply unacceptable.
Every human has the right to basic amenities: food, clothing and shelter. Migrant labourers should not be charged for train or bus expenses. Their railway fare should be shared by the states. No labourer should be concerned about food and water, that must be provided to them free of cost. In the times of crisis, it is difficult to hope for a utopian society, however, we must look after those who cannot: in India, thousands of hardworking workers are deprived of their basic amenities. If the country truly aims for an industrial boom, it must also take measures to keep its workers healthy and safe.
Author: Anjali Roy from The Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India(ICFAI) University, Dehradun.
Editor: Silky Mittal, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.