One of India’s topmost urban experts, Prof Amitabh Kundu, in association with other academics and civil society leaders, has estimated that between six and eight million migrant workers are “still stranded” in India’s different urban centres, including , Pune, Surat, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Lucknow and Indore because of the lockdown declared by the Modi government on March 24.
A development economist currently with the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS, Delhi), Prof Kundu headed the Government of India (GoI)-supported taskforce which prepare post-Sachar Committee report on the condition of minorities in India. Submitted in October 2014, while the GoI discussed its recommendations in January 2015, the report was never made public.
A joint statement — signed by Dr Rajesh Tandon of the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA, Delhi), Dr Sheela Patel, Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC, Mumbai), Dr Jagadananda, Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD Bhubaneswar), and Dr Yogesh Kumar (Samarthan, Bhopal) and Prof Kundu — states that its estimates of migrant labour anxious to return home are based on the “past Census and National Sample Survey (NSS) data and ground level information.”
Meanwhile, in an email alert, Prof Kundu told Counterview that matter raised in the statement has been with Dr Rajiv Kumar of the Niti Aayog, and would be pursued “with all our strength.”
We the undersigned representing different segments of academics and civil society would like to bring the pathetic conditions of the migrant workers huddled up in slums and ghettoized conditions in a few metropolitan cities, to the notice of the governments at the central and state level.
While many of them are desperately waiting for any means of transport to reach their villages or towns of origin, a few are risking their lives and that of their family members by choosing to walk or cycle hundreds of kilometers. The understandable angry outbursts of millions of migrant labourers stranded in these economic centres have created volcanic situations that can create a serious law and order problem in the country.
We have been receiving reports from Mumbai, Pune, Surat, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Lucknow, Indore and other urban centres where 42 days of lockdown has made migrant labour anxious to return home. Our estimate based on the past Census and NSS data and ground level information is that nearly 6 to 8 million of them are still stranded and are desperate to go home.
Many of them are hungry and without shelter; they are being treated inhumanely in temporary and forced shelter homes in these cities; they are spending money, whatever is left, to re-charge their mobile so that they can speak to their loved ones.
|Prof Amitabh Kundu|
Several have tried to travel by bus or tempo or truck, by road, but crossing inter-state borders is a nightmare. There is widespread confusion among security agencies across states as to what is permissible and what is not. They are asked to produce medical certificates by police, for which they are being fleeced by unscrupulous clinics.
We hear reports that some in business community have advised state governments to keep them within the state for ‘re-starting’ the economy, post-lockdown. While giving definite offer of jobs and social security is welcome, there can be no logic to detain them against their wishes.
Fear, uncertainty, distress and inhuman treatment by local officials and police have resulted in a situation where widespread unrest and violence may occur any time. The only option is for central government to ask railways to ferry them home in hundreds of trains from all main economic centres, and to manage this process in an orderly manner, without harassment and stampede.
The transportation should be organized in a dignified and humane manner, taking special care of the pregnant women, small children etc. The state governments can take the responsibility of accepting them following the health protocol. The government may consider seeking help from the army in this matter.
We appeal to the authorities at the centre and states to consider this as of national Emergency and act decisively and quickly.