Over 150 academics and civil society members on Monday issued a statement demanding transport arrangements, wages and accommodation for migrant workers who, they said, were once again in “extremely precarious situations” as a fierce second wave of the coronavirus pandemic evaporated livelihoods.
The signatories said they strongly condemned the “apathy” shown by the central and state governments toward migrants, and urged them to take the well being of these workers into consideration before “making hasty and callous decisions on lockdowns”.
The academics said that a second lockdown-induced migration was underway, with workers in Maharashtra, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and many other cities trying to return to their hometowns.
“Like last year, informal workers have been left to fend for themselves,” they added. “While there have been no formal restrictions on inter-state travel, the unavailability of train tickets has left many stranded. Additionally, private bus tickets are being sold at exorbitant rates.”
While the government had “once again, failed the people”, the signatories said, the situation this time was “even more grim” as Covid-19 had “well and truly spread over rural areas”.
The academics warned that the reverse migration of workers from cities will put an “incomprehensible burden on the rural economy and healthcare facilities which, as reports indicate from states like Bihar, are already on the verge of collapse”.
They said that in order for stations, bus stands and highways to not become clustered, the state must ensure a smooth transport facility to workers, who wish to return.
Therefore, the government must announce, at the earliest, the introduction of special trains for migrant workers across different states as well as increase the number of government buses to facilitate ease of travel for migrant workers, the signatories said.
Every state government, they said, must also ensure that wages for preceding months prior to the lockdown are paid in full and for stranded workers, wages continue to be paid as long as lockdown continues. Besides, state governments and industries must bear the responsibility for accommodation of those workers who have been left unemployed due to lockdown and closure of factories, the statement said.
“In every basti [slum], awareness about the seriousness of the disease should be spread and free vaccines should be made available to all, including out-of-state migrants,” it added.
The academics also urged the government to immediately increase MGNREGA spending and clear all the previous dues to the state governments. Further, they demanded that the Public Distribution System rations should be made available to all the citizens in need irrespective of their state of residence and irrespective of their identification documents.