Abstract: This article reviews the recent topic we have been listening every now and while, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already infected almost 170,000 people in 148 countries, resulting in more than 6,500 deaths1. The estimates of the NCEUS (National Commission for Enterprises in the Un-organised Sector) were based on the 2001 Census that placed India’s population at 102.7 crores and the report declared that 34 crores or 39% of the population belonged to the category of ‘unorganized workers’. The situation is coming up as a shock for economic and labour market which is impacting lives of people, to cope up with the situation swift and coordinated policies are needed at National and global level, with strong solutions to control the situation and after affects of the same, also to limit the direct health effects of COVID 19 on the most vulnerable group of society which is the labourers and their families who are walking miles hungry and thirsty to reach their homes to feel secure from this pandemic as the main reason which can be analyzed for this rapid migration could be the lack of services provided to ensure the people for health, food shelter and basic services to make them feel secure during this lockdown. Hence to protect workers and their families from the risk of infection should be a top priority and deeper institutional and policy reforms are required to resolve this issue as these workers form a huge base of economic backbone of the country and it is very important to safeguard their interest during this pandemic. In alignment with strategic approach, this document provides action that needs to be taken for containing a large outbreak. The actions required for mitigation phase and strategies as per the scenarios to be adopted to resolve the issues as soon as possible are suggested below.
The world was already racing against odds and time when the pandemic finally made base in India, which consequently led to the government announcing the harshest lockdown in the world right here in the heart of the country. The ones at the worst of the receiving end were the migrant labourers, people who migrate, away from the comfort of their homes and expose themselves to harsh city lives, ironically, in search of a livelihood and better living standards, and in their respective host cities engage in all sorts of labour, from manual to mechanical. When the lockdown was enforced the migrants were faced with either facing starvation or the pandemic, they chose the latter. They preferred to walk miles, taking their pregnant women and their children, braving the extreme heat with a proverbial winter of lack of food and essentials waiting for them on the way. The fear of starvation and consequent death, being the reasons behind this unimaginable journey these people undertook, left them grabbing at any opportunity that would take them home.
- The Migrant Worker in India’s Urbanization Trajectory
- Migrant Inclusive Planning Interventions | Problems, Failure & Strategies
- Urban Planning & COVID-19 | Density, Travel Demand, Water & Hygiene
Understanding the Existing scenario
We need to analyse the situation to find out and incorporate measures to resolve the issues as today we gather relevant information from every mouthpiece of the media from different areas like Delhi NCR, Maharashtra, Gujarat and other major states, which reflects on the plight of labourers either walking or waiting at the borders. The mismanagement can be clearly seen and there is not an inkling social distancing as we speak. Now we come to the situational sharks who overcharge them for movement across the borders. The mismanagement has crept into the transportation as well, as accidents have become rampant. News of people crammed in small spaces on the back of trucks, children crying due to starvation, and even people sitting spitting distance from dead bodies have emerged. The ground reality is even more frightening and appropriate measures need to be adopted to stop people from being run over roughshod like this and hung out to dry, quite literally out of the trucks, by the authorities.
First few on the policy intervention for these existential problems would be to list down the issues. These people are daily wage workers and do not have any monetary savings, so the prime requirement would be to make sure that after the lockdown they have enough job opportunities and good agricultural facilities for their survival. It becomes imperative to mainstream migrants into existing programs to assure that all sections are included and decisions are taken in order to protect them from any health and economic impacts of COVID 19. The end results should comply with good public health practices to facilitate seasonal work in agriculture with a need to incorporate health screenings and guidelines to be taken care of.
Another cause of concern and immediate perusal is the large crowds gathering for transportation, and them being often denied access across the borders. This little scenario may soon become a hotspot for Covid-19, and the last thing India needs right now is these people taking this disease back to their respective states, where the health infrastructure is already in shambles. The authorities need to make similar and proper arrangements as were done to bring people from abroad back to India. Another important aspect that has been continuously missed out is their deteriorating mental health and it is upto the authorities to ensure that their mental well-being is looked after. These people should not have to migrate at all as their adoptive states should ensure their safety, but if they are, the onus of their safe transportation must be borne by the adoptive and home states, simultaneously.
- Causes of Urban Poverty
- The Migrant Worker in India’s Urbanization Trajectory
- The need of revisiting “Food, Clothing and Shelter” as basic necessities for survival
Suggested Strategies/ Measures
After understanding the situation the measures that should be taken for the betterment of migrant laborers so as to safeguard their interest are enlisted below:
- Safe transit to their respective destination provided with periodical medical check ups, food and basic medical provisions, so that it may be ensured that they do not pose a threat to the native population and to ease their suffering.
- Post lock down measures to ensure that should any similar situations present themselves in the future proper safety, sanitization and social distancing are maintained at the workplaces. These people need to be equipped with such basic protocols to ensure their, as well as safety of others.
- The employers must be directed to provide the due pay of wage workers on time under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
- Transportation modes like metro and buses to be sanitized after every trip and the number of passengers to be limited and frequent buses to be maintained on each route. Vehicles with more passengers be punitively fined so a decorum in traffic rules can be achieved.
- Migrant labourers should be provided basic medical amenities at their workplaces to avoid any health failures. Separate wings in every hospital be made available, along with regular check ups, delivery of masks, gloves and medicines, if the situation calls for it.
- All these services and their delivery should be hassle free so no more stress is added to the already weakened section of the society.
- Small medical camps and help centres be set up along state boundaries for grassroot access and more awareness be created, especially for the people who have no access to any media.
- Provision of night shelters, permanent and temporary shelters stocked with medical supplies, clothes, footwear, food and other essentials like electricity and water. These temporary structures may later be converted into permanent housing for economically weaker sections of the society.
- A “Migrant Labourer Crisis Management Board” be set up who would look into such situations and come up with quicker solutions for expeditious relief.
- The irony of the current situation is that policy funds are being generated, but either reach the affected by the time their availability becomes futile or do not reach the affected at all. Hence, it is imperative to ensure that all the policies that are being framed are implemented and executed well at the ground level.
- There should also be strict supervision and accountability for handling such policies as well, lest despite existing, they become inefficacious, as there is no point of forming policies or setting up any budget if these can not be availed by the concerned.
Henceforth, there is an urgent need for transparent procedures and committees when pandemics like Covid-19 or natural disasters hit the country. Because at the end of the day the worst affected are always the weakest and the poorest. And it is in the best interest of the country itself, as this section is the backbone of the society, to ensure their survival and safety.
Author Bio: Vijaya Bhati, M Plan 2nd year student, (Urban Planning), & Teaching Assistant at LSAD, Lovely Professional University.
- 1Figures for 16 March; Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science Engineering Dashboard, (https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6)
- https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro bangkok/documents/publication/wcms_bk_pb_202_en.pdf