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Migrant Woes

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A number of the chief ministers who interacted with the Prime Minister on Monday expressed interest in getting back residents of their states stranded elsewhere, particularly young students. They were also reluctant to raise the lockdown, while favouring phased easing of restrictions. Quite obviously, the developing situation means greater difficulties for the young, unsupported persons fending for themselves away from their homes. It makes sense, therefore, for undertaking the ‘repatriation’ exercise, which has actually already been initiated by such as UP’s Yogi Adityanath. The protocol in this regard already exists but, for the satisfaction of all and to prevent any untoward incident, it can be further strengthened and adopted.

The students and many others in similar circumstances will benefit from getting home, even ease the pressures on lockdown management by not being an unnecessary complicating factor. At the same time, though, there is the question of migrant labour – many of them necessary for the post-lockdown revival – who may want to go home. One of the most unpalatable revelations of the ongoing crisis has been the very marginal place these sections of the population have in urban society. Even India’s wealthiest cities did not have it in them to better accommodate these labourers, despite their importance in keeping the economy going. In fact, Ratan Tata has recently been critical of the government policies that have ignored housing and other needs of such marginalised sections. The impact of such societal disregard of basic humanitarian concerns is also being felt by the agriculture sector, where harvesting is being delayed because of labour shortage.

Some may argue that these migrations are the result of economic growth and opportunities. The migration pattern for those who practice it is merely a means to making money during the agriculture off-season. Over the years, it has become established practice to go where there are ongoing construction, highway and other projects, with little intention of living their permanently. The problem with this is that many also take their families, with children facing neglect while their parents work. In China, for instance, there is a strict ban on this and children have to fend with grandparents or other caretakers in their places of permanent residence, but receive education and other necessary services. Which system is better, more humane? It is suggested that improved agriculture practices and productivity, as well as development of agri-based industry would curtail such migration, but progress in this regard has been poor, though there are some shining examples of success. It is to be hoped that once the present hurly-burly is over, some serious action is taken to add this missing dimension to the migration economy.