As migrants grow restless in lockdown, govt weighs cash transfer option

Migrants wait for a bus to their native village, in Ghaziabad. Photo: PTI
The National Democratic Alliance government is contemplating a cash transfer scheme for migrant workers affected by the 21-day lockdown imposed on March 25 to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) amid growing restlessness among such workers across the country.

On Tuesday, Mumbai’s Bandra became the site of a massive uprising by a groundswell of migrant workers defying the lockdown extension till May 3, demanding they be allowed to go back to their native places. Similar scenes were witnessed in Surat (Gujarat) last week and on Tuesday, when scores of workers took to the streets demanding food and wages. In Delhi, too, a fight broke out in a shelter camp last week over food and hundreds of migrants posted a video on Monday, complaining about lack of essentials at their industrial complex. 

Last week, the labour and employment ministry had asked state governments to compile the data of all migrant workers in relief camps, industrial and residential clusters, along with their bank account and Aadhaar details.

The data was to be collated by April 11 and the government was looking at transferring cash into the bank accounts of migrant workers, said a senior government official.

On Monday, Labour and Employment Secretary Heeralal Samariya held a meeting with labour officials of states asking them to expedite the process of collating the data. The labour ministry sent another reminder to all states on Tuesday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation, said another government official.

During his address, Modi said he treated the “poor daily-wage workers” as “family” and mitigating their problems would be his priority. He said their welfare would be kept in mind while drafting the new guidelines for extension of the national lockdown till May 3, which will be made public on Wednesday.

The central government made it clear to the state governments that it wants to focus on migrant labour.  The states have, however, expressed problems in collecting bank account details and Aadhaar numbers of migrant workers. “These were not readily available in many cases. The central government was informed about the lacunae. We have sent all the data we could collect. The bank account details of some workers can be collected later,” a state government official, who attended the meeting on Monday, said.

Another problem states faced was collating data from ‘hotspots’ where migrant workers lived. “Data collection became a challenge in these areas,” a labour department official from Delhi said.

The robustness of the data may become a challenge in announcing such a cash transfer, an official said. For instance, the Delhi government has furnished the data for 3,000 workers, Odisha for around 75,000 workers, and Madhya Pradesh for 11,000 workers belonging to other states.

Till Monday, the labour ministry had received some data related to 500,000 migrant workers. Till Tuesday evening, some states were still compiling the data.

The data will be segregated on the basis of occupation. The list of occupations includes agriculture, domestic work, rickshaw-pulling, security service, work at brick kilns, automobile work, food processing, and building and construction work. Sector-wise data will be sought from employers. The information is supposed to be collected by district administrations in states.

The government will also attempt to map the pattern of migration, and workers will be asked about their last place of residence and their native place.

The 21-day lockdown, beginning March 25, led to a reverse migration, with workers leaving cities and going back to their villages as industries were shut and paying house rent or taking care of basic needs became a challenge, apart from health concerns.

According to official estimates, 500,000-600,000 workers had to walk back home because public transport was not available. They travelled miles on foot to reach their villages. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are still living in shelter homes set up by various state governments in India, while the rest are under quarantine facility before they are allowed to meet their families.

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