“When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions” wrote noted playwright William Shakespeare in Hamlet. This sums up the plight of migrant workers whose misery has continued during “lockdown” and even during the “unlock” phase.
As many families lost their lives and livelihood, the Supreme Court of India took suo motu cognizance of media reports of lapses in dealing with this national crisis observing that there have been “inadequacies and certain lapses” on the part of Central and State Governments dealing with the migrant workers.
The top court had to intervene twice. First it asked the Centre and States to immediately provide free transport, food and shelter free to stranded migrant workers and then fixed a 15-day deadline for ferrying them back home and dropping criminal cases against them related to violation of lockdown.
The unprecedented misery calls for an introspection. As per official claims about 60 lakh migrant workers have already returned to their home states by Shramik trains.
The reality of many workers and their families having lost their lives and viral videos of migrants walking or cycling to home without food and water during travel back home points to the fact that something really went terribly wrong. It brings home the sordid reality that Centre and States were under-prepared to deal with such a challenges.
The reports suggest that during May 9 and 27, about 80 persons died on Shramik trains being run for the migrant workers.
Whether these lives were lost due to ailments these individuals were suffering from, the fact is many lives could have been saved had authorities organized travel, food and water for these poor migrants who came on roads with their wives some of whom were pregnant, their barefooted children with meager belongings on their heads.
Tehelka cover story in this issue that MGNREGA is coming to the rescue of migrants makes a point that the scheme can provide succor.
It is heartening that the Centre has stepped up allocation for this scheme.
However, the Opposition Congress has tried to win brawny points that this was the UPA’s flagship programme. A war of words has also broken out after UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s announcement that his state will set up a migration commission and any state that wants workers from UP will have to seek its permission.
The statement met with a strong response from MNS chief Raj Thackeray who hit out, saying migrant workers will have to seek permission from the Maharashtra Government and register for that purpose. The Supreme Court has given a clear message to the Centre and States, ‘It is in your hands to take care of them’. A national crisis requires a united response while politics and blame game can wait.