More than a year after the Covid-induced lockdown — imposed at a few hours’ notice — triggered a Partition-like exodus of jobless and penniless migrants across the country, crores of such people remain atmanirbhar in the worst sense of the word. They are not even a blip on the government’s radar. Left to fend for themselves, the labourers who are working or have worked in the unorganised sector are unable to gain access to various welfare schemes being implemented by the Centre and the states as they don’t even figure in the official records. Expressing disappointment at the slow pace of registration of the unorganised workforce, the Supreme Court has called for expeditious completion of the process so that the intended beneficiaries can keep themselves afloat by making the most of these schemes.
It’s inexcusable that the all-important exercise of developing a comprehensive national database for unorganised workers, undertaken by the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, continues to be a work in progress almost halfway through 2021, even though last year’s horrifying chaos had underlined the dire need to speedily enumerate all such labourers. In the absence of reliable data, it’s tough to establish the proportion of workers who have not received cash transfers or free ration. The absolute numbers reeled off by ministers and government officials don’t show us the true picture on the ground.
Though there has been no nationwide lockdown this year, various states and union territories have enforced stringent restrictions on economic activity and public movement, forcing many migrant workers to again adopt the desperate measure of returning to their home states. Those who have willy-nilly stayed back are also struggling for bare essentials. A recent survey in Punjab has revealed the disturbing reality: one-third of the migrant workers in the state’s urban areas are illiterate; and almost 60 per cent of them have a monthly income of less than Rs 8,000. What’s needed is a workable action plan — national as well as state-specific — to ensure adequate means of subsistence for migrant workers so that they can withstand repeated disruptions.