by Eklavya Tiwary
During the early stages of the lockdown, a handful of volunteers attended to distress calls from stranded worker groups in Jharkhand and Bihar. With a sizeable rise in calls, the number of volunteers expanded and labelled themselves as Stranded Worker Action Network (henceforth referred to as SWAN). Today, SWAN has grown to accommodate 73 volunteers who have interacted with around 11,159 stranded worker groups across various states. The information obtained from these interactions has been systematically documented to create a report, published on 15th April 2020. The objective was to provide detailed figures from the on-ground issues that constitute the Indian migrant crisis with an appeal to provide remedy and relief.
The figures laid out by the organization elucidate on the stark realities of the migrant struggles. Responding to SOS calls from a large sample of those stranded, the larger share of calls was from the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. Of the 11,159 calls attended, a vast majority are from factory/construction workers, while the rest are either self-employed or engage in domestic work, rickshaw driving etc. Some of the more staggering numbers represent the upset supplies of food, ration, and cash into the hands of the stranded. Of the entire sample, 72% claimed that they will be out of ration within a span of 2 days with even worse situations among those from Maharashtra. Cooked food was not accessible to 70% and another 70% were left with less than ₹200. This figure is nearly half of their average daily wages prior to lockdown, which was ₹402. The failure of central and state governments to curb the distress are measured by whopping figures of 96% from the sample receiving zero ration and 98% receiving zero cash relief. Further, despite orders from the Ministry of Home Affairs two days post the declaration of the lockdown mandating employers to pay full wages, 89% have been paid nothing.
Conducting a study between the second and third weeks of the lockdown, the report proposes that the rate of hunger and distress among migrants is exceeding the rate of relief. Figure 1 demonstrates the diminutive provisions of cooked food and ration between the second and third weeks of the lockdown. Tracking the same period, Figure 2 traces the growing severity of the crisis by charting the growth of the number of people with less than 1 day of rations and the number of SOS calls received. On comparing the two, a 14-percentage point increase was revealed in the proportion of people saying that they have just 1 day of rations left and a 3-percentage point increase in the proportion of people receiving government ration supplies. This essentially indicates that the stranded are becoming hungrier at 5 times faster the rate at which they are receiving supplies. Another graph, exhibited as Figure 3, presents poor wage provisions by the third week, just 10 days post the government directive mandating full payment from employers.
Figure 1. Percentage of migrants who have not received ration from the government or cooked food
Figure 2. Percentage of migrants with less than 1 day of ration remaining and those making SOS calls with no food or money
Figure 3. Percentage of unpaid migrant workers
Moving on, the report claims that there is a drastic increase in the number of distress calls that the volunteers received. While the possibilities of the growth might be dependent on the increasing awareness of the helplines, the figures indicate that despite the announcement of relief measure from the centre and state governments, the distress did not subside. It also states that the size of the vulnerable is increasing as groups that were better off initially are now included in this segment. The assumption is based on the calls received from stranded students and Zomato delivery men.
The report then provides meticulous figures and efforts from major states where migrants are stranded and from the states that they call home. These include Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar. While some such as Karnataka ensure prompt responses, others such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra did so irregularly and poorly. Bihar, a major home-state to the migrants was also quick to disperse cash. However, there have been field reports denying any such transfers. The troubling analysis here is that even those who were able to return to their native lands are facing similar challenges.
Finally, SWAN proposes numerous recommendations to alleviate the many damages ranging from food, wages, shelter, water, and transport. The target beneficiaries are all sections of this community, those stranded at their cities of work, those at home, those at relief shelters and those sleeping out on the roads. Of these many notable propositions, most urge for a more proactive response from the authorities. Rightly so, the extent of the distress that the report assists in conceptualizing should be of grave concern to the government. Much greater accountability is expected from both employers and governments. To that end, the applaudable efforts from SWAN lays out a foundation with potential to guide substantial remedies that aid in resolving the migrant crisis.