India in lockdown, millions of daily wage laborers take long journeys to home on foot

indica News Bureau-


A nationwide lockdown in India – the world’s largest – over the coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on thousands of migrant workers in the capital, New Delhi. Hundreds of thousands of migrant laborers have begun long journeys on foot to get home, having been rendered homeless and jobless.

The workers started fleeing New Delhi after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown, which effectively put millions of Indians living off daily earnings out of work. Construction projects, taxi services, housekeeping and other informal sector employment came to a sudden halt.

With businesses shut down in cities across the country, vast numbers of migrants — many of whom lived and ate where they worked — were suddenly without food and shelter. Soup kitchens in Delhi, the capital, have been overwhelmed.

There are usually around 100 million unskilled or semi-skilled migrant workers in India, according to a government survey for 2016-17 — around a fifth of the country’s workforce.

Sharing his thoughts on the reverse migration Dilip Mookherjee,  Professor of Economics at Boston University, and the author of The Crisis in Government Accountability: Governance Reforms and Indian Economic Performance, the main concern was migrants’ health and to prevent COVID-19.

Prof.Mookherjee told indica, “I think it is very important to (a) prevent people from moving out of their current locations, to contain the spread; (b) to provide shelter food and care for migrants in cities and towns (as the Chinese did by converting stadiums and large halls) so they can cope temporarily in their current locations;  (c) keep supply channels (eg. mandis) flowing as normally as possible, supplemented by the movement of grains through the public distribution system, to prevent food shortages, and (d) use direct bank transfer and other facilities to provide financial support to the poor.”

A lack of jobs, particularly in poor states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, forces them to head to major cities and wealthier southern states.

They live in cramped apartments, working long hours for a few dollars a day in often unsafe conditions with no social security.

Any money left over after covering their expenses is sent back to their families.

Since many are unregistered, it is unclear how many have now traveled home and how many are on the road, but media reports suggest there are tens of thousands on the move.

Thousands of migrants in Delhi, including whole families, packed their pots, pans and blankets into rucksacks, some balancing children on their shoulders as they walked along interstate highways. Some planned to walk hundreds of miles. But as they reached the Delhi border, many were beaten back by the police.

“You fear the disease, living on the streets. But I fear hunger more, not corona,” said Papu, 32, who came to Delhi three weeks ago for work and was now trying to return to his home in Saharanpur in the state of Uttar Pradesh, 125 miles away.

As of Sunday morning, just one of India’s 36 state and territorial governments, Uttar Pradesh, had made arrangements to bring migrants home, commissioning about 1,000 buses. On Saturday, migrants waited in lines miles long on the outskirts of Delhi to board a few buses, and the overwhelming majority were turned away.

But by Sunday afternoon, the central government had ordered states to reverse course and seal their borders, ordering migrants to stay where they are. The reversal added to the already confusing rollout of the lockdown, which has prompted state government actions often at odds with the central government’s orders. The police, often confused, have resorted to violence.
India announced Thursday a $23 billion welfare package to help its poorest citizens with direct cash transfers and food subsidies that extends to migrant workers.

The federal government has also called on local authorities to provide food, sanitation and accommodation to those on the road.

SpiceJet has even offered to fly workers home for free, though authorities have grounded domestic flights.

The chief minister of the eastern state of Bihar, home to many migrant laborers, has said his government will set up relief camps — where he insists “social distancing” will be implemented.

Authorities elsewhere have been organizing buses to take home some of those stuck on the road, with health checks for everyone before they board.

But there remains the dire rural poverty and lack of jobs that drove the migrant workers away in the first place.
Ministry of Home Affairs issues slew of directions to State/Union Territory Governments and State/Union Territory Authorities to control the movement of a large number of migrant workers stating it as a violation of the lockdown measures on maintaining social distance.
Ministry of home affairs issues new directives
Ministry of Home Affairs while addressing the issue regarding the movement of a large number of migrants taking place in some parts of the country so as to reach their home towns said it is a violation of the lockdown declared by the Prime Minister of India in view of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic outbreak, India Legal reported.  Ministry of Home Affairs in its order directed State/Union Territory Government and State/Union Territory Authorities to ensure adequate arrangements of temporary shelters, and provision of food, etc. for the poor and needy people, including migrant laborers stranded due to lockdown measures in their respective states.

To deal with the situation and for effective implementation of the lockdown measures, and to mitigate the economic hardship of the migrant workers in the exercise of the powers, conferred under Section 10(2)(I) of the Disaster Management Act 2005, the Chairman, National Executive Committee has further directed State/ Union Territory Governments and State/Union Territory Authorities to take necessary actions and to issue necessary orders to their respective District Magistrate/ Deputy Commissioner and Senior Superintendent of Police/ Superintendent of Police/ Deputy Commissioner of Police, to take actions.

It has also been directed that the migrants who have moved out to reach their home must be kept in the nearest shelter by the respective State/Union Territory Government quarantine facilities after proper screening for a minimum period of 14 days according to the standard health protocol.

All the employers of businesses including Industry, Shops and Commercial Establishments are directed to make payment of wages of their workers, at their workplace on the due date without any deduction for the period their businesses are under closure during the lockdown.

Landlords are directed to waive the payment of rent for one month from the workers including the migrants. However, this has also been directed that landlord forcing laborers and students to vacate their premises will be liable for action under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

The order also specifically mentions that in case of violation of the measures mentioned above, the respective State/ Union Territory Government shall take necessary action under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the District Magistrate/ Deputy Commissioner and Senior Superintendent of Police/ Superintendent of Police/ Deputy Commissioner of Police will be personally held liable for the implementation of the mentioned directions and lockdown measures.

Ensure all have access to food, health care, says Human Right Watch.

Indian authorities need to urgently adopt measures to protect the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people if COVID-19 containment and relief measures prove inadequate, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 24, 2020, the government announced a three-week nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country.

The lockdown has already disproportionately hurt marginalized communities due to loss of livelihood and lack of food, shelter, health, and other basic needs. The government does have a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of the population, but some of these steps have left tens of thousands of out-of-work migrant workers stranded, with rail and bus services shut down. The blanket closing of state borders have caused disruption in the supply of essential goods, leading to inflation and fear of shortages. Thousands of homeless people are in need of protection. Police actions to punish those violating orders have reportedly resulted in abuses against people in need.

“The Indian government is facing an extraordinary challenge to protect over a billion densely packed people, but ramped-up efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in India need to include rights protections,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should recognize that malnourishment and untreated illness will exacerbate problems and should ensure that the most marginalized don’t bear an unfair burden from lack of essential supplies.”