As India crosses 60 days of lockdown, we have seen the spirit of stranded workers devolve from grit to indignation. The Government of Maharashtra’s response leaves much to be
Soon after the lockdown began, a group of around 100 volunteers formed the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN). They have since responded to calls from over 30,000 migrant workers across India. In response, SWAN connected workers to local organisations
and government officials for rations, assisted in travel arrangements, and distributed over Rs.42 lakhs in emergency cash transfers.
As the days pass, the situation of the migrant workers has been worsening. How is a worker with minimal savings expected to sustain for more than two months? As the government
announced lockdowns in series, the workers were forced to accept lack of work, dwindling supplies, hunger and starvation. The reports of worker evictions are increasing at an alarming
rate. Those who had diligently followed the process laid out for travel by train, and even paid exorbitant prices to secure a medical certificate are waiting for the calls that were promised.
Those who longed to be with their family in desperate times have set off on foot, uncertain about what the roads hold for them.
Where the Government has been absent, civil society organisations have been at the forefront of supporting stranded workers.
On 20th May, SWAN submitted a petition to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra questioning his government’s decision to charge workers for train travel back to their home states, the
delay in communication of travel procedures, the substandard quality or absence of rations in many areas, and the insensitivity of government officials in responding to the plight of workers.
As a result, SWAN has suggested the following action points to the Government of Maharashtra:
- For ration and daily necessities of workers:
a. The Centre has announced that migrant workers can access rations through PDS shops without possessing a local ration card. The procedure for this should be disclosed and widely
publicized, and corresponding measures should be taken to equip PDS shops with adequate rations.
b. Community kitchens must be examined every week by municipal functionary to ensure quality food.
d. The local authorities must ensure that no workers are evicted from their dwellings during lockdown, and those that are left without home must be accommodated in government
shelters or private shelters supported by the government.
- For transport of workers:
a. Government of Maharashtra should arrange free of cost travel by train for the stranded workers. Governments of Bihar, Delhi, Punjab, West Bengal and others have announced free train travel
b. Extend the facility of free transport by MSRTC busses for at least two months to ensure complete evacuation.
c. Make public the schedules of trains and MSRTC busses to avoid confusion and chaos.Ensure there are lists put up outside every police station and public place.
d. Provide clear guidelines and information for obtaining clearances for travel by private vehicles, for those who choose to do so.
e. Other than Police Stations, create multiple Facilitation Centres like schools, colleges, stadiums
etc for travel registration. This will ensure better adherence of social distancing rules.
f. We urge the government to communicate to all its officers the need for a sensitive approach towards the workers. Government agencies should prioritise proactive and empathetic with the workers.
- For collaborative action with civil society:
a. Ask the district collectors, ward members and police department to actively share information on accessible social media such as Twitter. This will also serve as a communication channel to highlight important issues.
b. Local administration should initiate a meeting of representatives of local NGOs and civil society organisations to assess strengths and possibility of mutual collaboration. This will enable a synchronised effort in handling the crisis more effectively at the local level in the