By Arun Srivastava


The oldest, primary and simplest duty of a government is to protect its citizens. But it is a national shame that Modi and his government have committed the worst crime of not performing the bare minimum constitutional obligation and task of protecting crores of pandemic hit daily wage workers. The shocking reply of the government admitting its failure on the floor of the Parliament was most deplorable. Without an iota of humiliation the government confessed; “no data about the death of the migrant labourers was available with them”. This reply coming from the cabinet minister not only shames the government but it also critically exposes its insensitive attitude and approach towards he poor of the country.


Modi does not get tired of expressing his lip service to these poor people.  He puts on the mask of being sensitive and concerned of their plights and miseries. His hate and double speak towards these people is also exposed in the observation of the government that as no data of people dying on the way is kept by them the question of paying compensation to the families of these labourers arises.


This attitude of Modi and his government makes it absolutely clear that he is mainly concerned for the welfare of his rich friends and corporate cronies. It is sad still there are some persons who nurse the view of Modi being sympathetic to the common and poor people. There is no doubt they live in fool’s paradise. This brusque reply was not simply a mechanism to stonewall the mechanism of providing the replies to the questions inside the parliament, but more than that through its posture the Modi government also managed to send he question that they are not more than “termites” and does not matter to it.


Yet another question put to the government; “Whether the government has failed in assessment of problems faced by the migrant labourers during the lockdown imposed by the government” really shredded the class character of Modi government.  The reply: “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 a large number of genuine and bona fide non-government organisations in the nation’s fight against the unprecedented human crisis due to the outbreak of Covid-19 and countrywide lockdown,” intriguingly failed to make any sense. As Modi usually boats, the “most competent government in Independent India” could not reply whether it has assessed the problem. If it had assessed what was its findings?


The government data about the total number of workers, around 1.04 crores, who returned home during the lockdown period was also skewed.  The number of such labourers was around 4 crores. One thing is noticeable that almost all the ministers of the Modi government, following in the footsteps of their leaders have mastered the art of speaking lies. Though the government announced a special economic and comprehensive package of Rs 20 lakh crore, the labourers are yet to benefit.


While the government has no data of Migrant deaths, the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) has furnished the figure of 972 deaths till July 4. This is indeed a commendable task performed by a research group using its own limited resources. The minister did not feel ashamed in replying; “no data of people dying on the way are kept”. Does he want to say the local police stations and health care units are defunct and not supposed to perform this task? Nevertheless these are reported deaths and onus lies with the government to verify these deaths and give compensation.


According to the SWAN, 216 migrants died of starvation and financial distress, 209 due to road or train accidents, 133 committed suicide, 96 persons died aboard Shramik Special trains and 77 died due to lack of medical care. As many as 49 deaths were reported at quarantine centres, 49 deaths were attributed to alcohol withdrawal and another 48 to exhaustion. The most significant finding was police killed 3o0 labourers while they were fleeing the cities. The remaining 65 deaths are unclassified.


While government admitted that no compensation has been paid, Modi resorting to populism had tweeted on May 16 that  an ex-gratia amount of Rs 2 lakh is to be paid from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund to the next of kin of each of the migrants who died in an accident at Auraiya in Uttar Pradesh.


This entire exercise raises yet another question whether the bureaucracy has ceased to take Modi and his announcements seriously? Why so far no public statement was made whether the compensation was paid? Or, as usual this was a jumla, a gimmick, played by Modi. It is sad that so far the labour ministry of the Modi government has not come out with the detail valid report about loss of jobs by these poor people.


The report of the Action Aid India,  which surveyed 11,537 people from 21 states finds that over three-fourths had lost their livelihood since the lockdown began on March 25 and close to half had received no wages during the lockdown. Five out of six respondents said they got inadequate food during the lockdown. Yet another organisation  Centre for Sustainable Employment, Azim Premji University, which surveyed 5,000 workers from 12 states reveals that two-thirds had lost their jobs. Nearly 90 per cent of the urban self-employed among those surveyed lost jobs and 91 per cent of Below Poverty Line households were left with no work. Similarly, 67 per cent of the respondents did not receive the Rs 500 a month for three months that the government had promised under the Jan-Dhan Yojana.


Recently Modi  said the millions of workers who returned home during the lockdown had ‘turned adversity into opportunity’. But incidentally his government has not placed the cases of such transformations in public domain so that theses can motivate others. In fact ground reports present a contradictory mage. Though the labourers have started returning no government agency is seen standing by him.  For scarcity of alternate jobs at their villages, the workers are coming back, but they are forlorn and dejected. They don’t find that helping hand the Modi government had promised.


A recent study based on experiments in the field shows that local politicians are far less inclined to help migrant workers than residents of their constituencies. The reason is these people are not the voters of their constituencies. Yet another factor that emerged out is some of the big and medium size industries have been taking the help of the local politicians to bring back the labourers who had fled during the lockdown.  Researchers from Columbia University and the University of California, San Diego have found that in 28 large cities, municipal councillors favour long-term residents in their wards  over migrant labourers come recently to the area. (IPA Service)

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