The mass exodus of migrant workers from the big cities, especially Delhi, is etched in everyone’s mind and heart. The whole world has seen these images on their TV screens.
Tragic stories of death and distress have been carried by the print and electronic media and, even now, thousands are locked into large spaces in States which are not their homes. They will need to stay there during the Lockdown period so as to avoid possible further spread the C-Virus.
Migrant workers are a huge reality of India. They are part of the massive informal sector and they come from rural areas to earn a living and send money home to their families.
But, even though they are people – human beings - men and women - and they have been growing in number, who really, is in charge of their welfare, their care, their well-being? Are they orphans of Indian society?
The Government of India has a Ministry of Labour and Employment. Is this Ministry in charge? Is this Ministry responsible? But, the Ministry seems to be completely preoccupied with issues relating to workers in the organized sector – fewer by far than the migrant workers in the informal sector.
Are the Labour Departments of the State Governments responsible?
And, just in case, the Labour Ministry at the Centre, and the Labour Departments in the States have some, or all of the, responsibility, it is not clear how they carry out their duties.
So here is a question: Do we need a Ministry or an Authority (hopefully, Empowered) for the millions and millions of Migrant Workers? To exclusively focus on their well-being? Should there not be a structure in governance of India, concerned with the Migrant Workers? So that there is priority, there is focus.
The happenings of last week, following the Lockdown, have surely added hugely to the insecurity and loss of confidence amongst the Migrant Workers. How will this be reversed? They have gone “home” to their families and villages. Those, who are stuck midway, will surely head home when allowed to move. Are they going to stay home? Will come back to the cities? And, how will they earn money, how will they get jobs in the villages? They have been going through a nightmare. Will it be unending? Will one nightmare lead to another?
At one level, the Government of India and the State Governments, have to think about these issues and frame a policy-set for the future.
At another level, business and industry has to also think about this issue because the Migrant Workers are important to keep the wheels of the Economy moving. What can the Corporate Sector do?
And, finally, if they want to stay home, are we ready for a different model of decentralized development and growth? Will the micro, small, medium industry become the real pivot and foundation of our future economy?
There are many key questions to consider and find answers to. As we fight the war against C-Virus, we, concurrently, need to think and work out the future of Migrant Workers in India and India’s Development Strategy.