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Painted red

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In the recent train mishap in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, 16 people were killed which is far more than deaths due to COVID-19 in twenty one states and union territories. After an argument with their contractor, the migrant workers decided to go back home on foot. Following the railway tracks amidst the nationwide lockdown, restricting the movement without a pass, they would have never imagined that the city of Ajanta caves will be painted red with their blood. Exhausted, tired and misinformed that no trains were running in the lockdown period, they slept on railway tracks. They slept for the last time, not on the bed but the stones, their heads not on the pillow but iron rails. How should we categorize these deaths; COVID, accident, workers own mistakes, authorities’ apathy or an act of god.

According to the Global Migration Report 2020, published by International Organization for Migration, India has 17.5 million people living outside the country and remitting 78.6 billion dollars. On the other hand, as per the Economic Survey 2017, the movement within national boundaries is far greater than movement beyond the shores. The 2011 census puts a figure of 139 million for the internal migrants. With such a huge number of migrants, lack of infrastructure and unpreparedness for such a crisis, the situation is bound to worsen if the loopholes are not plugged soon.

Role of Government
Article 19 of the Indian constitution protects the rights of its citizens to move freely throughout the country. With this assurance, people keep migrating within the territory for the search of better opportunities which the government of their respective states fail to provide. Although migrants add value to the economy through their work, they are treated as a burden by the host states and it has been evident from the inhuman treatment they have received in various states in the past. Kerala is the only state in India which considers migrant welfare as a duty of the state. The nation is in a suddenly announced lockdown for more than 40 days now; running out of food, money, support and no end in sight to their plight, they desperately want to go back home. Policy announcements and government support have just made the headlines but not reached the needy ones.

PM Garib Kalyan Yojana has been envisaged to provide free ration, center-state coordination for the utilization of existing funds. Yet we have seen the cover up done by Railways over the issue of collecting ticket fares from the poor migrant workers. Transferring mere Rs. 500 in the their bank accounts will not take away their hunger and mental torture. Alas! This Rs. 500 is not enough to buy them the ticket to utopia, the so called ‘Achhe Din’. When it comes to food security and feeding the people, it is high time for implementing One nation one ration card efficiently. However, the 17 states which already part of the integrated management of PDS, Maharashtra being one among them, are suffering from implementational paralysis. The soul of politics would have rested in peace, if despite suspending MPLADS it would have been diverted to ensure food for the daily workers and labourers in the constituency. Also, PM CARES so much that CAG officials were not allowed to audit the funds as it is based on donations of individuals and organisations.

Government tried to take the concern of labourers in the account through consolidating labour laws through 4 codes but now it seems to relieve the pain of economic miscarriage and to attract the investors coming out of China, it will be relaxed in the favour of companies.

Role of Media
It should be noted that the people Killed in Maharashtra were unaware that goods and special trains are running even during the 3rd phase of lockdown. If it’s just their unawareness to be blamed no wonder why still India keeps ranking out of 100 in World press freedom index (rank 142 in 2020). There is a need for serious renovation in this 4th pillar of democracy when reporters are finding communal angles even in the spread of pandemic instead of echoing the timetable and ways to get e-Pass for safe passage from one place to another.

Role of Bureaucracy
Any policy formulation and implementation needs efficient bureaucracy and the efficiency of bird’s(bureaucrats) flight comes only when it is not iron caged. It took more than 40 days to break the traditional approach and to come up with the innovative idea of a roaster system of opening shops in UP and a token system for liquor in Delhi. Many would not have lost their job if these decisions were taken earlier boosted with many more new ideas from public consultation. In the words of Karl Marx, the bureaucrat has the world as a mere object of his action.{Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843)}

Role of Society
Civic societies and NGOs have started running out of money so it comes on the shoulder of private individuals to take care of the migrants as their duty without smelling the essence of beneficence because these migrants and workers have made these metro cities where we enjoy the liberty and luxury of life, no matter if they can’t afford it. So it’s the duty of the privileged ones to pool their resources and not only help them but to treat them as an integral part of their ecosystem and behave decently that would give them moral support in this grave situation.

Technical assistance through creating a nationwide digital database of migrants to identify the beneficiaries along with Cumulative efforts has to be taken and the responsibility has to be shared among all the stakeholders whether it is government, companies, media or the individuals through grass-root implementation of policies, broadcasting the relevant information, corporate social responsibility and fundraising by the individuals to feed them properly and provide temporary shelters at the same place where they currently are and stop their migration ensuring the pandemic is contained soon.

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