This is another shocker that comes from the Centre this week. It says the government has no data about the migrant workers who had to face immense hardships during the mass exodus following the announcement of nationwide lockdown in March. The Centre stated about their lack of having any data on the migrants in Parliament on Monday. However, latest reports suggest that the Centre did gather required data about the death of such workers. Does that mean the Centre not giving true information to people? Why is the Centre not admitting if they actually had the data? In this article, we shall discuss all these issues concerning the Centre’s statement about migrants’ workers and their death.
No Data On Migrant Deaths, So No Compensation: Government To Parliament
— NDTV (@ndtv) September 15, 2020
Centre’s apathy towards migrant workers: Explained in 5 points
1. What has the Centre said in Parliament?
The Centre on Monday told in Parliament that there is no data available on the number of migrant workers who lost their lives during an exodus that was sparked when a countrywide lockdown was suddenly enforced to contain the coronavirus in March, HT reported. The response was given during the first day of the Monsoon Session in Lok Sabha. The labour ministry also declared that according to the government’s centralised database, over 1.04 crore migrants returned to their home states, with Uttar Pradesh receiving the highest number of workers at 32.4 lakh. This was followed by Bihar at 15 lakh and Rajasthan, which recorded the return of 13 lakh migrants.
So what triggered this response from the Centre? During the Parliament session, members of the House asked for details on whether the Centre knew the actual number of migrants who died while trying to return to their native places and if state-wise details of the toll was available. They also inquired “whether the government provided any compensation or economic assistance to the victims’ families”. The Ministry of Labour and Employment, in a written reply to Parliament, said: “no such data is maintained”.
It added that the Centre did not maintain any state-wise break-up of the distribution of free ration and other subsidies being provided to migrant workers either. The ministry said that since no such data was maintained by the government, there was “no question of giving compensation” to the victims’ next of kin.
2. Where does the Centre’s version contrast?
The Centre’s response is in contrast to the data provided by the Railway Protection Force reviewed by HT in May. According to that data, nearly 80 migrant workers died of starvation or heat sickness while travelling on special trains between May 9 and May 27. The Railway Protection Force is a security force under the Ministry of Railways.
— IndiaToday (@IndiaToday) September 15, 2020
On being asked if the government had failed to assess the issues faced by migrant workers, including in Tamil Nadu, the Centre said: “India, as a nation, has responded through the Central government, state governments, local bodies, self-help groups, Resident Welfare Associations, medical health professionals, sanitation workers as well as large number of genuine and bonafide non-governmental organizations in the Nation’s fight against the unprecedented human crisis due to the outbreak of Covid -19 and countrywide lockdown, including Tamil Nadu.”
On the issue of transportation of such workers, it said that more than 4,611 “Shramik” special trains ferried over 63.07 lakh workers to various destinations in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh and other states. Food and water was also provided free of cost to the workers during their journey, it said.
3. But RTI papers show the Centre had all data…
However, as per the Right to Information Act documents, the Centre recorded information about the deaths of migrant workers. A report says, “Information provided in response to the RTI application filed in 18 zones of the Indian Railways has confirmed the deaths of at least 80 people on board the Shramik Special Trains. Among those who died are an 8-month-old infant and an 85-year-old elderly person. At least two new-born babies also died on board these trains.”
The documents show that the Centre had recorded the deaths of migrant workers on the special trains. The RPF was in charge of registering these deaths and forwarding the information to the concerned railway zone or division. The reports submitted by the RPF revealed for the first time that several deceased persons on board the Shramik special trains were infected with the coronavirus. Then why did the Centre say otherwise in Parliament? Others who died had symptoms of the virus, such as cough, fever, vomiting and their condition suddenly deteriorated.
The RTI documents also revealed that in several cases, an autopsy was not conducted on the demand of family members. There are 70 divisions in 18 zones of Indian Railways. Of these, only 14 divisions provided information which shows that at least 80 people have died on board the Shramik Special trains operating in their area. If other divisions also make public their data, this figure is likely to go up. However, the Railways headquarters has refused to furnish the information.
4. Now entire responsibility about migrant workers’ data on states!
Now this is very absurd if you notice. The Centre after declaring that it had no data about these workers, shifted the entire responsibility about keeping data on migrants workers on the states. The ministry referred to the role of the state governments in addressing the migrant crisis. It said that all the states and Union Territories have been advised to take adequate steps to streamline the migration of the workers to mitigate their hardships during the journey.
“The states/UTs have been advised to implement the advisory guidelines by quickly gearing up their labour Law enforcement machinery and ensuring statutory compliance by all the stakeholders which could provide migrant workers much needed help to mitigate the financial crisis and empower them to deal with the pandemic,” the ministry told in Parliament. “The states/UTs have also been advised to maintain updated data of the migrant workers to facilitate the administration to extend benefits of the welfare schemes of the government to the migrant workers.”
5. Centre even blamed ‘fake news’ for spreading panic on migrant workers!
The entire nation knows what chaos it followed after the mass exodus these workers soon the lockdown was announced. The sudden imposition of the restrictions caused massive damage to the country’s lives and livelihoods. But the Centre blames it on the “fake news”. Migration of large number of migrant workers was triggered by panic created by fake news regarding the duration of lockdown, the Centre said on Tuesday, 15 September, in a written response to a question by Trinamool Congress MP Mala Roy in the Lok Sabha. The TMC MP had asked about the steps taken to protect migrant labourers before the lockdown was announced, the reasons why thousands of labourers ended up walking home after it came into effect, and the number of those who died on the way home. As per a report, the migration of a large number of migrant workers was triggered by panic created by fake news regarding the duration of lockdown, and people, especially migrant labourers, were worried about an adequate supply of basic necessities like food, drinking water, health services and shelter. However, the Central government was fully conscious of this, and took all necessary measures to ensure that during the period of the inevitable lockdown, no citizen should be deprived of basic amenities of food, drinking water, medical facilities, etc,” the answer by Minister of State (MoS), Home Ministry, Nityanand Rai, read.
As we all know that in an unequal world, uncounted people are not just missing data. In a democracy, failing to enumerate the vulnerable is a method to disenfranchise them. Absence from state records means that the poor are omitted from welfare measures of the state. The Centre’s lack of data statement shows its sheer apathy about these large number of workers who contribute majorly to our economy.
Don’t have the time to read? No problem, listen to our amazing podcasts anywhere on the go, click here.