On the first day of the parliament session, the Centre responded that the question of compensation for the families of dead migrant workers does not arise because of lack of data on the matter.
The ministry response was -There is no data on migrant deaths so the “question does not arise” of compensation.
The response from the Ministry has not only baffled the opposition but the people of this country in general who have been seeing continuous visuals of migrants going home for almost a month and many dying on railway tracks or on roads out of exhaustion. Their response has been met with critique and anger from activists as well as the opposition.
When the lockdown was announced on March 24th, The Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) started a helpline to address stranded migrant workers’ needs. While coordinating relief efforts, they also documented the distress induced inadequate government and judicial response to the crisis. They have responded to the GOI’s statements on the migrant worker’s crisis. In their statement, they gave detailed reports on many of the questions raised to the GOI.
SWAN showed recorded data of at least 971 migrant workers who died during the period.
Moreover, when asked if they gave compensation to any families, GOI said that there was no data available. However, the railways refused a family of exhausted workers who died on tracks relief as it is a crime to sleep on railway tracks. Media reports as of June also show that the GOI did not provide compensation on the 80+ shramik train deaths.
They Government also cited lack of data when ask if it has done any assessment of the job loss among migrant workers due to the COVID-19 crisis. SWAN provided study reports on the same from the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University.
Finally, when questioned if migrant workers returned home walking because of lack of provisions from the state, the GOI responded that more than 4611 Shramik trains were provided. They said that more than 63.07 lakh migrant workers were shifted and that free food and water was provided for the journey.
However, SWAN responded that the Shramik trains were provided one month after the total lockdown was imposed without any relief. Moreover, by this time thousands had already reached home by foot.
They also criticised the GOI for vague instructions and protocols, which differed across states. This resulted in a second exodus of migrant workers; many began walking home, and tragically died on the way.
Thousands had already begun walking or reached home on foot, in what will be remembered as one of the largest movements of people since partition.
It is a matter of national shame and a continued assault on the dignity of the estimated 45 crore informal workforce that even five months after the lockdown, the GoI has no data on deaths and distress.
They also point out that the numbers provided in the parliament are similar to those presented by the Solicitor General in the Supreme Court during a hearing in May. The Finance Minister had also announced a relief package assuming that there are 8 crore migrants. The office of the Chief Labour Commissioner stated that there are 26 lakh migrants.
The report presents that GoI’s apparent lack of access to data is blatantly false. Instead, it is simply an attempt at hiding the Ministry of Labour and Employment’s “utter incompetence and callousness…for the lives of the very workers it is mandated to protect”