By ARUN PRATAP SINGH
DEHRADUN, 18 May: Leading industrialist from Uttarakhand and well known social activist VK Dhawan feels that migrants moving on foot to their native places need top priority of the Centre, the state governments and the district administrations.
Interacting with Garhwal Post, today, he said that there was an urgent need to minimise the suffering of the migrant workers walking all the way to their native places from metropolitan and other industrial cities. Feeling pained over the hardship being faced by the migrant labour, he believes that the logistics to fetch them can be easily managed with the help of the administrations of districts through which these workers are passing! This serious humanitarian problem could have been handled in a better way, Dhawan stressed.
Dhawan says that the basic responsibility of handling the issue should rest with the district administrations. The migrant labourers were walking on roads and highways which pass through some or the other district. Each road or highway has a number of facilities like restaurants, toll tax offices, hotels and resorts, petrol pumps and other government or private buildings. These buildings can easily be utilised as resting camps by respective district administrations, and the migrant labour passing through could be asked to stop there. The district administrations have adequate number of senior officers like the DM, ADMs, SDMs, CDOs and BDOs, etc., even at the block level. At every 20 to 25 km, such rest camps could be set up without much money by just getting tent contractors to set up tents. Two senior officers should be nominated as nodal officers at each camp. Each district also has bus stations where currently most government buses must be parked. One of the nodal officers should focus on working out logistics like arranging buses for the workers to take them to their respective destinations and coordinating with the nodal officers from the home districts and sharing the details of the workers being sent, their travel history and the trade they belong to (like masons, plumbers, fabricators, lathe technicians, electricians, etc.). The other nodal officer must take care of the registration of the migrant labours arriving at each camp and handle the receiving and sending away of the labour on the buses.
Dhawan, however, adds that for this to work out, the Centre should issue guidelines to all the states in this regard and also seek details of the nodal officers to be nominated at each camp. Once the Centre issues guidelines, then it will become mandatory for every state government to implement the Centre’s direction. The issue of migrants’ movement is very serious and urgent steps need to be taken to tackle this problem, he feels.
If such rest camps are set up every 20 to 25 km, each district would have to set up two to three such camps which is something that can easily be done and mobilised by the respective district administrations. Once the workers arrive at these camps, they should be medically checked and their food and drinking water requirements should be met and then they can be asked to rest till buses are arranged for them to take them to their respective destinations. Within days, all the migrant labour walking on the roads currently can be taken care of and they will be off the roads in a matter of two to three days. Hundreds of buses can be arranged to fetch the labourers.
Dhawan accepts that once the skilled labourers are able to return to their respective native places, their rehabilitation will be a major issue. If the details of the skills (trade) of each migrant are noted at the respective camps at the time of their arrival, then these should be shared with the state government and labour officers, who can act as nodal placement agencies to supply manpower to the local industry should such vacancies exist. He adds that the industry is currently facing shortage of skilled labour at almost every place because of migration of workers from everywhere. He said that the tourism, travel and hospitality industry has suffered the most and continues to suffer due to COVID-19 and the lockdown. Even if the industry is allowed to operate after some time, there will be not many customers. This will take a long time to recover and the labour skilled in this trade will have to suffer more unless some urgent help in the form of direct cash benefits is not provided to them. He feels that the real challenge for the migrant labourers will begin after their return to their native places since they may not find placement commensurate to their skills. Also the metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Surat will find it very hard in the coming months to find suitable labour as much of the labour which is returning may choose to never return to these cities in view of the current suffering they have had to undergo!
Speaking about the economic measures announced by the government in view of the COVID-19, Dhawan says that government has announced some very good measures to stimulate economic activity of various sectors but time will tell if they are adequate. For example, the actual outflow of financial cost to the government in this Rs 20 lakh crore package is about Rs 3 to 4 lakh crores, the rest are benefits provided to the industry and agriculture as indirect means through the banks such as reduction of interest liabilities, etc. While the package is very good as a long term plan but some more emergency measures to help industry overcome the current crisis are still required. These should be in the form of direct cash benefits for MSMEs to help them pay wages and salaries of their labour and staff for two to three months. Most countries have done this and this is required here, too. Some subsidies are required to reduce the burden of the MSMEs and some other industry! Overall the package is quite good as a long term plan, but some emergency measures are required to tackle the present crisis, Dhawan feels.