Millennium Post

In migrants' interest

Nobody in this lockdown, privileged enough to have regular meals and protected under a roof from this scorching sun, can be oblivious to the prevailing plight of migrant workers. Travelling en masse to reach their native places in perhaps the biggest reverse migration in the country, visuals of these workers across channels and newspapers are heartbreaking. There are countless stories of workers bracing the heat and hunger to reach their homes by hook or by crook. Many lives have been lost in this endeavour. Those appalled by their plight ask questions and those responsible for alleviating their misery defend their actions. The issue of migrant workers in India has constantly been underlined since the lockdown was imposed. It has also been politicised. However, the plight continues despite a prolonged emphasis. The constant spotlight on these migrant workers by media and regular coverage by newspapers brought about the expected suo motu cognisance from the Supreme Court at last. A three-judge bench on Tuesday directed the Centre and state governments to immediately provide adequate transport arrangement, food and shelters free of costs to the migrant workers. It asserted how measures had been taken by governments but they were subject to inadequacies and lapses. It asked the Centre and states to list out steps being taken to help the stranded workers. Tuesday's order, in all likelihood, should have come sooner. It could have saved lives and alleviated the unfathomable misery faced by this section of the population. At this juncture, the order by Supreme Court delineates two strong notions regarding the world's largest democracy. First, an underperforming executive that did not adequately deal with the crisis that unfolded and second, a judiciary that came to the rescue later than it should have.

How could the sheer size of the vulnerable section that bore the brunt of the lockdown be ignored? It cannot be so that our policymakers were unaware of the vast multitude India has. The pandemic, as unprecedented as it has been defined, should have ideally facilitated the executive to proactively aid the migrant workers in terms of their transportation, food, shelter, daily wage, et al. When the whole nation was asked to stay inside, resources and energy should have been directed towards this cause. The economy would have suffered irrespective of this commitment. The argument that trains were started to ferry them home cannot factually outweigh legs traversing national highways on foot. Even if these trains were started, arrangements were not adequate. Why else would migrants take to roads and even railway tracks in a bid to reach home, taking matters solely into their own hands? Even the long queues of migrants this week in cities such as Mumbai and Delhi reveal how many have been waiting for a berth on a homebound train. The fact that it took nearly two months to include eight lakh of the needy in the national rationing scheme and establish a national dashboard (NMIS) to track migrants' movements is appalling. While the executive faltered in its measures, the judiciary remained of the view that it could not do much in this regard. More than a week back, the Supreme Court had refused to entertain a petition that sought directions to the government to identify migrant workers, address their needs and provide free transport to them. While the Supreme Court appears to be remedying the situation through its latest directive, the incessant plight of these migrants has underlined one of the worst facets of the pandemic. Given the circumstances and their numbers, there is no denying that the task of orchestrating a return of these people to their homes appears strenuous. However, a helping hand from the government is both, an expectation these migrants harbour as well as an unwavering commitment that the latter ought to keep up!

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