Ever since the lockdown was announced on 24th May by the Indian government, the migrant labourers have been left stranded in various states and been forced to undertake long detours back home. Though the lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic was put in place as an effort to promote and practise social distancing and self-isolation, there have been epic scenes of migrant laborers fleeing the cities leaving behind their jobs and livelihood impacting their fundamental ‘right to life’ guaranteed under Constitution of India.
The lockdown in India has impacted the livelihoods of a large proportion of the country’s nearly 40 million internal migrants, as the ‘World Bank’ stated. The perpetual extensions of lockdown period right from the beginning and closure of almost all the formal and informal sector industries triggering the halt of related activities such as construction, transportation of goods and services have left these labourers in a helpless situation. The constant fear of getting locked as a result, the loss of income, food shortages and uncertainty about the future has led the migrants to an unprecedented exodus towards their native places.
This put themselves in a more horrible and disastrous situation as they will voluntarily put their lives at stake to reach their destination in a vision of fulfilling their livelihood again without proper food and water in the scorching heat. To reach their homes safely and securely, they abandon the use of public transport and start to go back to their native places walking or bicycling hundreds and even thousands of kilometres. A 15-year-old girl from Bihar was seen carrying her ailing father on a bicycle for 1.200 km over the course of a week where she was later approached to try out for National Cycling Academy by the Cycling Federation of India and received praise from Ivanka Trump. Many reach their destination while starving but some even die due to dehydration and exhaustion on the verge of their destination.
The Supreme Court of India taking the suo moto cognizance of migrant issues released an ‘interim order’ erstwhile 26th May seeking solutions to various arrays of issues stating that:
Migrant workers who are stranded shall be provided adequate food by the concerned state at places which shall be publicised and notified.
No fare shall be charged for train or bus journeys from the migrant workers. The fare shall be shared by the respective states.
The state shall oversee the registration of migrant workers and ensure that they board the train or bus at any early date giving them the complete information.
During the journey, it will be the duty of the state to provide them with meals and water.
Those migrant workers found walking on the roads should be immediately taken to shelters and provide them with the basic amenities of life.
The direction by the Apex court was perhaps an effective step towards curbing several migrant issues however, procedural lapses to be faced by migrants are still prevalent in regard to the process of registration, the supply of adequate food, the minimum standard of food, paying the migrant fairs, days needed to shift them to their native places and monitoring mechanism in order to ensure that food and basic amenities are appropriately fulfilled. To meet these wide arenas of issues, a uniform concrete policy needs to be implemented which seeks out in containing numerous migrant hardships giving them the assurance of restoration of their livelihood by coordinating with the industries and getting them absorbed at work through govt-industry partnership simultaneously with the regular testing of workers and observance of social distancing. Else it will rather be very difficult to re-start their livelihood by partially lifting the bans and easing the lockdown norms.
Author Details: Dhananjay Bhati (Unitedworld School of Law Karnavati University, Ahmedabad)