By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2020-05-29 19:22:39
Despite shedding tears for the plight of migrant workers, politicians across India have now started making insensitive remarks once the same migrant workers, originally hailing from their state (domicile states), are being sent back from other states (host states) where they were employed. Why this double standard? What do the politicians expect? That the host states that provided employment to people from their states remain saddled with these workers? That the migrant workers from domicile states not be sent back and allowed to meet their families?
It is common knowledge that the Centre, the railways and the host states have piled untold miseries on migrant workers. The Centre had no clear-cut policy on this issue and issued a vague guideline that did not clarify things like charging of fares and provision of food and water. The host states had different policies for registration, did not adhere to rules when transporting these workers to the station and did not provide them with food or water. The railways, too, failed to arrange for the cleaning of trains at regular intervals (hence, in most Shramik Specials, toilets became unusable after 4 to 5 hours and there was no water in the taps) or providing food or water to the passengers in the searing heat (there are reports that food packets were thrown at the passengers from across another platform as if they were untouchables). In short, migrant workers are taking the journey back home in the most undignified, even inhuman, manner.
But the deepest cut is now being provided by domicile states. Karnataka has banned flights from five states and road traffic from three. But aren't those coming back are mostly people who have their permanent homes in Karnataka? How can they be prevented from coming back to their homes? West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said Shramik Specials are Corona Express trains and has said that 5 to 6 lakh "outsiders" have entered Bengal. Who, pray, are these "outsiders"? Aren't these migrant workers or others stranded due to the lockdown permanent residents of Bengal? Had they not gone out of the state to provide for their families and send money to the state, thereby reducing the state government's burden? Aren't these the self-same migrant workers over whose plight in host states the Centre was being bashed till just a few days ago? Then how do they become "outsiders" when they are coming back to their own states?
The domicile states should stop this attitude. There are health guidelines for people who are coming in. The lockdown was put in place mainly to provide time to the states to ramp up their medical infrastructure and quarantine facilities. The domicile states should screen all migrant workers and allow the asymptomatic ones to remain in 14 (or more) days of home quarantine. Those showing mild symptoms of Covid-19 must be put in institutionalized quarantine. Hospitals and medical care must be provided to those showing clear symptoms. Testing for mild and clear symptoms must be mandatory and random testing should be done for asymptomatic migrant workers. But in no case can these people be called "outsiders" as they are permanent residents of the domicile states to which they are now returning.
picture courtesy: PTI