Hindustan Times (East UP)
The migrant crisis needs attention now
Restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections have sparked the exit of migrant workers from cities, yet again. On Monday, thousands of migrant workers crowded Delhi’s interstate bus terminals. This happened even after Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s appeal to them to stay on, and promise that the government will address their needs. Similar stories of reverse migration are being reported from across the country, even as industries and traders have expressed their concerns over its economic consequences.
While the scale of the departure of workers is not like the exodus of last year, yet, the fact that migrants have been quick to move out, even at the cost of their health, shows their lack of faith in the Indian State. The government has failed to set up a strong social security net for migrant workers, despite serious proposals on the table. Niti Aayog’s 2021 policy framework on migrant labour has a range of workable recommendations. These include developing a central database for migrants; setting up a social security safety net — health cards, access to schools, extension of public distribution system services, and adequate housing, among other steps. While the pandemic presents a massive logistical challenge, and many of these recommendations may need time to be operationalised, the State must do all it can to prevent humanitarian distress. It must consider universalising PDS, expanding the rural employment guarantee scheme to urban areas, and providing direct cash transfers. The pandemic has been most brutal for the poorest working citizens. Last year, India pledged that the migrant workers would never have to go through the same suffering again. It is time to redeem that pledge.