Ram Dutt Tripathi , Political Analyst
Unlike China , Indian Citizens have certain fundamental rights. These include to move freely throughout the territory of India , to reside and settle in any part of India and to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation , trade or business.
The much delayed decision to impose Lockdown was widely welcomed., though many did not observe the rules of physical distancing . However , like the demonetisation , the decision was not well thought and no home work was done to allow people to move to their place of comfort. So the Lockdown resulted in another unprecedented crisis . Millions of Jobless people got stranded far away from their homes. People travelling for treatment , business or leisure were also stranded.
This unprecedented situation demanded a quick evacuation plan which has not been put in place even after 50 days of the Lockdown.
VANDE BHARAT is the well known initiative launched by the government to bring back Indians stranded abroad due to the Covid-19 crisis. A lot of initiative and coordination is going into bringing our citizens abroad. Nobody can have a quarrel with that. But it is unfortunate that there is no practical and efficient plan for the domestic skilled and unskilled workers living in eight states of Bharat. There is lot of grudge, ad-hocism even if we account for over 350 trains which would have moved over 4 lac such hapless victims.
This tends to bring into sharp focus indeed the great divide between the have and have-nots, the rich and the poor, the possessed and the dispossessed. While there is a surgical strike type of operation named and planned for the richer NRIs to ensure that they come back home from 5000 miles,– the domestic migrants – do not even have a whisper of a concerted plan to get back home, even if the numbers are large and so admittedly requiring more efforts.
The Aurangabad tragedy and the hiding inside cement mixers or inside onion sacks to be taken home just 1000 miles away seems too much of an effort for the government. They seem to be betrayed. Rich states like Karnataka and Gujarat would not leave them because that would cause loss of labour when the lockdown opens and the poor recipient states like Bihar, Odisha would not take them as they could enhance the Covid infection numbers should they be allowed to come back home.
The courts seem to have diluted the concept of audi alteram partum – do not condemn the unheard – as the poor migrants were suddenly informed some 47 days ago that they cannot step outside their hutments with no future exit opportunity even though the Covid 19 patient count was merely 526 on March 25th and the migrants could have been given a few days breather to go home.
The rich states now want to treat them like bonded labour and that too without paying any wages except for some charity of free food which the self-respecting workers would wish to deny because it would be beggarly behaviour.
A quagmire of several compulsory steps are said to be required before a single migrant can think of being transported home and hence the on-going delay in fruitful efforts to help the million or more stranded in the seven widely known states of western / southern region. Let’s see how. An informed inquiry has revealed that the steps are as follows –
- it is the migrant heavy sender states who have to first make a district wise list of migrant labour they wish to send .
- the sender state has to identify along with the list, the destination point to which the migrants would be sent .
- the list and the destination would be sent to the recipient state.
- the recipient state has to consult its district machinery and the state itself as to the burden of receiving the migrants,
- the migrant state has to make interalia quarantine measures to contain the migrant reaching the district by transportation to the quarantine spot.
- the quarantine ensuring machinery for 14 days quarantine has to be got ready.
- then the recipient state would send consent through its nodal officer to the sending state for sending the migrants.
- then the migrant receiving state would petition the central government to arrange a train (typical capacity of 1200 passengers keeping physical distance norms),
- the receiving state would pay its share (centre says only 15%) for the ticket value of the migrants to be transported,
- on receipt of payment the centre will direct the Railways to arrange a train rake at the destination of collection.
- the migrant passengers would be announced (don’t know how) that a train is now booked for taking them home and would leave at such and such time to such and such destination – all others just sorry,
- The penniless poor migrant labour would procure a health certificate ( Coronavirus negative )by paying at least Rs 500 to a private doctor.
- The migrant labour would come to the platform and board the train in the presence of watchful officers.
- He would reach the district of destination.
- The migrants would then go to the point of quarantine which could be district headquarters or village school / panchayat bhavan.
The 15 step red-tape has the Center saying that the states are not requisitioning the migrant special trains and the states are swearing that the centre is not fully cooperating. It appears as if we are dealing with different countries and not Union of States .
The political parties not in power are banging their desks that here is the money for the train and so transport the migrants without any further loss of time. The net result is still a cauldron full of confusion with the migrants walking in their desperation, hundreds of miles as the government is lost in its bureaucracy and defence in the face of a complex issue even while the Dandi March or Civil Disobedience of the poor citizens continues in the ever increasing harsh temperatures of the summer sun from Mumbai, Surat , Bangalore , Delhi , Ludhiana to Basti, Bastar and Burdwan.
Lack of political will
So, what is the solution. Actually, with the given will, it is quite simple. The central government should in a video conference with the recipient states and sending states ( a number of whom have party affiliation or tie up) and in a no-nonsense meeting with the CMs of the states with a polite yet firm hand set out the task that the sending states shall have to send and the recipient states shall have to receive the stranded migrants. Key destinations for boarding outward journey are not many and so also the recipient districts are reasonably well known by now. No NSSO type survey or migrant labour portal is required at this stage for identification.
Raiways & Bureaucracy Competent enough
The Indian Railways is in peace times lauded for running 15000 trains in a day with more than 4 crore passenger carrying capacity. What is needed now is only a pre-announced scheme of 1000 trains per day (and not the 300 odd now) for 7 to 10 days from 7 to 10 destinations from sending states to 7 to 10 destinations in receiving states with the recipient destination bus service for the last mile linkage. These trains could be announced as SUMMER SPECIALS with pre-announced / fixed boarding stations. Most of all, there is no need to record the departing passengers as this can easily be done at the recipient station where there would be enough time to debrief the alighting passengers in contained areas for their onward last mile travel and quarantine requirements.
The bureaucracy of this country is competent deliver. it has very successfully and gracefully handled a big number prisoners of bangla Desh war and millions of refugees .Only the political will is required to put the steel frame into action. Unfortunately that political will is lacking. What is therefore prayed is that the sooner the political masters decide that the task has to be done without further delay , doubt or dithering then all will fall into place. Let us hope better sense prevails before more Aurangabads happen.
Let us not measure the life of the working class so cheaply. They are the back bone of the society and the economy. Ultimately they are the masters and have the power to make and unmake governments. Our constitution has been adopted in their name . they pay tax to run the system.
Fortunately now they have learnt to bypass the red tape and the lathi wielding police . They are determined to walk hundreds of miles without food and sleep to join their families . They have refused to be bonded labour or majbur Girmitiya Majdoor. The soul of the Mahatma is silently guiding them to ignore unjust orders of an insensitive system , and move on with courage . they may not have faith in the system , but they do have faith on their capacity to deal with hardships , diseases and disaster with or without government help. Some invisible power always guides them. they have faith on that invisible power , which created them .
But the government must understand that it needs the will or mandate of the people for its survival.