No doubt, the migrant workers’ exodus 2.0 — happening in many states, including Punjab, Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh — must be prevented. For, implicit in the mass movement is the crowding and congestion of trains and buses. And, as they ride on the raging Covid 2.0 wave, it is fraught with the danger of the fleeing flocks becoming superspreaders. The state governments must incentivise them to stay put. ‘Main hoon na!’ — this assurance by beleaguered Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to the worried migrant workers making a beeline for railway stations and bus stands to return home amid a weekend/week-long lockdown is all sound and no action. It carries little weight and appeal to the hordes bent on leaving. The other states are equally devoid of solid measures to stop the exodus. Even the Centre that had last year announced a stimulus for the poor to tide over the crisis is silent on the emergency emerging from Covid 2.0.
Unless the pleas are backed by solid facilities, the labourers, mostly daily-wage earners, are not likely to revisit their decision to leave. For, they are still singed by last year’s terrible experience when millions of migrants endured extreme misery, as following job losses and food insecurity, they trudged/cycled thousands of kilometres from all corners of the country during the draconian Lockdown 1.0, when public transport came to a grinding halt, to reach the safety of their homes. It is accentuated by the trust deficit regarding the governments’ decisions and flip-flops on the clamping of stricter lockdowns or curfews. The declarations of saving both lives and livelihoods, though well-meaning, are hollow as the welfare schemes announced for the poor are inadequate.
At the same time, the situation necessitates that the home states of the workers — largely Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal — should be prepared to receive the thousands of daily arrivals with provisions of quarantine facilities, food and medical aid, besides Covid testing, before they are found safe to go home. However, the authorities have been found appallingly wanting as chaos reigns at the workers’ destinations.