By Eklavya Tiwary
Since the 27th of March, a citizen’s collective in Gurugram is making substantive efforts in curbing the distress of migrant workers. So far, the Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch (GNEM), as they call themselves, have distributed over 25,000 ration kits across the district and 20 lakh cooked meals across the city in partnership with other public and private sector groups. Following their first report, which documented the migrant worker distress upon the extension of the nationwide lockdown in mid-April, GNEM has built a second report that analyses the condition of workers in the months after, i.e, May and June. Using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, phone-based surveys have been undertaken in two phases to gather the data; the first, a basic needs assessment and the second, to understand the requirement of continued support after the initial relief.
In their first report, GNEM raised concerns over unclear procedures of distribution of ration ordered by the Haryana government. A month later, there is still no transparency about the process and inquiries to local authorities only reveal patchy bits of information that do not suffice. The announcement of free rations to 8 crore migrants across the country by the Finance Minister on May 14th has had no visible implementation anywhere in the industrial clusters of Gurugram. In terms of cooked food, feeding centers set by the platform across the city shut down on May 25th due to a strengthened lockdown. Intensifying restrictions is necessary amidst the rise of cases, but failure in providing alternative arrangements for the 37% of the sample that are dependent on cooked meals has led to exacerbated distress.
Most of those in the sample assessed earn daily wages while the rest are dependent on monthly salaries. About 60% of these daily wage workers and 42% of those who work in factories have not started work. Among the rest who are permanent employees working on a monthly wage, very few are being called back due to social distancing norms. These employees are refused any advance payments and hence receive insufficient funds. Also, the increase in Covid-19 cases in Gurugram gives zero certainty to the recovery of the service sector. Wages during lockdown have also been negligible for most as 80% have not been paid for the entire lockdown period. Increase in debts is yet another addition to the distress. While a quarter did not need to take loans and relied on savings or perhaps asked family for money, 30% took loans of up to ₹2000, 24% between ₹2000 and ₹5000 and 8% above Rs.8000. A greater proportion of the self-employed have taken larger loans. This is concerning as 44% of the self-employed have been unable to restart work.
These anxieties around unemployment, income and food have influenced many to return to their native villages. Despite the state government’s efforts to transport migrant workers back to their home states, many are still waiting to return. Of the sample analyzed by GNEM, 30% are eager to return immediately, 40% are willing to wait further, and the remaining 30% have no intention of leaving.
The report has provided recommendations for all the issues that arose through the surveys. For food, the report urges the authorities to expedite distress ration distribution, disclose data (application and verification lists for rations) and keep community kitchens running until distress subsides. To secure livelihoods the government can: re-capitalize micro-entrepreneurs whilst ensuring Covid-19 related precautions, ensure grievance mechanisms in cases of wage dilemmas, and register worker under the BoCW act and disclose data on the workers registered under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana. Finally, in lieu of the Supreme Court’s orders to organize transport for migrant workers, the report urges the Haryana government to streamline its communication and procedures to help migrant workers get home, hoping to alleviate further distress in the already miserable lives of migrant workers.