No compensation to families of migrant labourers who died
It is extremely intriguing to hear the central government denying compensation to the families of the migrant labourers who lost their lives walking back hundreds and thousands of kilometres from metropolitan cities to their homes in rural India when they were thrown out of job after a sudden imposition and continuation of a lockdown. It sounds unbelievable when the central government says there is no data on the deaths of migrant labourers when on the opening day of the Parliament it was asked whether it had any records of migrant workers who returned to their states and whether the families of those who died during their journey were compensated. The government replied in negative saying that since there was no data the question of paying compensation did not arise. It is extremely sad to note that none of the government agencies, be it central or that of states, thought it necessary to collect the data, though migrant labourers and others were dying every day, some in road accidents and others because of exhaustion, as they walked on foot or took lifts on passing vehicles to return to their homes.
The sudden imposition of lockdown from March 25 rendered millions of migrants from rural India working in big cities jobless without any other source of income. The cities and edifices that they had toiled to build over the years turned out to be a nightmare for them with no or very little help coming from their employers or the authorities. With no income and food, they walked back home to survive as all the modes of transport were shut. It was heartrending to witness people, including women (some of them pregnant) and children travelling in scorching summer heat. While most made it to their villages, an unknown number of them was not fortunate enough. Some of them lost their lives within a few minutes’ walk from their homes after walking hundreds and thousands of miles. According to media reports, around 1,461 accidents were reported during the nationwide lockdown from March 25 to May 31 in which 750 were killed. Among them were 198 migrants travelling back home.
The government’s plea that there is absence of data on the deaths of migrants means that the families of the deceased would not get compensation. This is nothing but sheer callousness and inhumanity. The central government and the state governments did not care for what was happening to the poorer sections of society during the lockdown. The emphasis of the central government was on lockdown based on the calculations that the coronavirus would be contained with a prolonged closure. What happened to the migrant labourers was not the concern of the central government and the state governments. The irony the migrant labourers faced was that the factories and other workplaces where they were employed were suddenly shut down; the employers threw them out of job; no government, employer or NGO came to provide income and food to them. It was only the Kerala government that provided the succour and support to the migrant labourers.
Does non-availability of data allow authorities to deny the fact that these people did die in accidents or because of other unnatural causes while travelling in order to shirk off the responsibility of helping their families? The migrant workers were forced to undertake arduous journeys not out of their choice but to survive the apathy of their employers and government agencies during lockdown imposed in view of the coronavirus pandemic. Everything came to be done in a jiffy while lockdown was announced, giving people no scope to store essentials or travel back distances to their homes. While there may not be authentic data of deaths, the government can order the officials concerned to collect the same using reports that appeared in the media and check and collate the same with the families concerned. At a time when most Indians, mostly the poor are facing the brunt of prolonged lockdown and its aftermath, financial assistance to the families of deceased migrant labourers would help them recover from the loss of income. In the political propaganda the government says that its aim is upliftment of poorer sections of society. But it does the opposite.