• Dr. Mohan Dewan assisted by Adv. Aboli Kherde and Adv. Shubham Borkar

There is a huge movement of Migrant workers traveling on foot without necessities in almost all parts of the country. Their ultimate hope is to reach their hometowns. It appears that lakhs of these migrant workers have not been sensitized and made aware of the aforesaid government guidelines. On the contrary, Shramik trains have been organized to assist these migrant workers to go back home.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) vide its order dated March 29, 2020 had also directed the respective state governments and authorities to provide adequate arrangements of shelters and foods for the poor and needy which also included the migrant workers. Landlords of houses where these migrant laborers resided were also directed to not demand payment of rent from these workers. Why are these workers still hankering for home? [1]

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for Stranded Labor

From April 20th, 2020 the MHA allowed workers to resume work and promised that additional economic activities would begin in all zones except "containment zones". Migrant Workers residing in relief camps were required to register with local authorities. A skill mapping was to be carried out to find out the capabilities of these workers. It was also directed that in the event migrants wish to return to their place of labor, within the state where they were presently located, they were to be screened and asymptomatic workers were to be transported to their respective places of work. Why are these workers still hankering for Home? The movement of migrant workers outside the state in which they are currently located was prohibited. It was mentioned that the workers had to be transported in buses following the social distancing norms. Local authorities were made responsible to provide for food and water for the duration of the journey. [2] Why are the workers still hankering for home?

Revised SOP

On May 19th the MHA directed the State Governments and the Union Territories to designate nodal authorities and make necessary arrangements for receiving and sending the stranded workers. The Railway Ministry and the MHA now permitted movement of Shramik special trains for taking these workers home. "Train schedule; protocols for entry and movement of passengers; services to be provided in coaches; and arrangements with States/ UTs for booking of tickets was to be publicized by the Ministry of Railways". The State/ UT from which these workers were to depart were required to ensure that all passengers were compulsorily screened and only asymptomatic passengers were allowed to board the train. During the journey Passengers were required to observe social distancing.[3]

The Reality

Even after specific directions issued by the Labour Ministry the workers are not being paid their wages and this appears to be the main reason why they are so desperate to go back home. According to a Stranded Workers Action Network “SWAN” survey almost 8 out of 10 workers have not been paid at all during the lockdown. The Gujarat diamond industry is one such example that hasn't been paying workers despite repeated government orders. These workers are forced to either live on charity of Government, of NGOs, middle-class volunteers, or political parties or to head back home.

Several states like Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat have announced a partial suspension of labor laws in past few weeks while Uttar Pradesh has proposed a complete suspension of labor laws for a period of three years. Haryana, Assam, Punjab, and Goa had issued notifications extending the working hours.

The Genesis

State governments do not even have a database of migrant workers working in their state. Thus, even when the central government has asked state governments to spend Rs 31,000 crores for the welfare of workers, there is no mechanism to reach out to them.

1. No.40-3/2020-DM-I(A) Government of India Ministry of Home Affairs dated 29th March 2020

2. SOPs for Movement of stranded Migrant Labourers, within States/UTs where they are currently located, in wake of COVID-19 epidemic dated 19th April 2020

3. Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) on Movement of Stranded Workers by Trains dated 19th May 2020


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