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An Unexpected Early Return to the Cities

By Charmi Saujani

“Migrants are in no hurry to come back,” said Rishi Gupta, chief executive officer of Mumbai-based Fino Paytech Ltd. towards the end of May. “They’re saying that they’re not thinking of going back at all.” Additionally, Sushil Kumar Modi, a minister from Bihar, said that the migration may also give disadvantaged workers a new power. Why? This is because the employers would now supposedly realize and accept the importance of these workers particularly as urban centers would struggle with a lack of workers.

The above expectation that workers would get the much-deserved importance and work security didn’t really turn into a reality, thus leading to their return to the urban cities. The reasons for this are as follows:

Migrants going back to their native towns and villages could keep up with life and survive well only if they could get opportunities to earn near their native places, but this was a far cry as was also stated by Kumar Modi in May - “Chief ministers are telling these migrants that they will not have to go back for work, but the capacity of the governments to do something miraculous in next four to five months is doubtful. If they can retain even one-fourth of the migrants, I would call it a success.” This was somewhere true, as although the government was opening projects in many areas to engage the workers, the large 65 million migrant workers population wouldn’t benefit from it equally.

Thus, in some places, helplessness has forced the migrants to take some steps unwillingly. This helplessness grew out of lack of opportunities around their native villages which left them with no income and thus, a struggle to feed their families. "Now that I am penniless, the disease is a secondary consideration. After the lockdown, our working scope in the states that we used to work in has also gone down. Naturally the people who reach there early will have higher assurance of work and better payment bargain," said Jiten Mandal from a village of Jalpaiguri district in Bengal while standing near his bus (to Ludhiana). This quote perfectly sums up the current sentiment of the migrant workers who are coming back to the same cities that once abandoned them and are ready to put themselves at a health risk. Over 10,000 migrant workers are returning to Mumbai daily, said the official sources.

Faced with difficulties from all sides, a fraction of migrant population has made way to the urban cities where they wish to find normalcy with some income. This return brings in new problems relating to their health, because although there is thermal testing being done when they arrive and are asked to self-quarantine, the workers are left on their own once the quarantine week ends to protect themselves while being on worksites to ‘safely’ earn enough to feed their families. To all those who can work from home during these times: you are immensely fortunate.

Despite the social security measures in our Constitution and Directive Principles of State Policy, there were hardly any welfare schemes covering unorganized workers of our country until 2008. Almost a year after the Code on Wages Act became a law, implementation of the law still faces a delay as the government reissues a draft for any possible amends. Now that we know that welfare schemes fail their beneficiaries, is the present any different from the past? There is a lot yet to be done to help lift this section of our society and there are surely many ways to do so. It’s known to all that NGOs have played a crucial role in these times providing food and health security to many of these workers, and a small step of great importance can be to help these NGOs raise the required funds to carry on with their projects. Altogether these efforts are bound to have a remarkable impact and may be even more if each fortunate one out there lends a helping hand.


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