Sooner than later, Covid 19 will be a thing of the past. The sad saga is bound to eclipse like smallpox, plague and diphtheria. It is a fact that the outbreak of Spanish Flu of 1918 was responsible for the death of 17 million Indians. The bubonic plague came to India in 1897.
In 1901, it devastated many Punjab towns. People were moved to camps and their houses were fumigated by the British. They were not allowed to return for two months to their homes. Smallpox wreaked similar havoc,with one in ten dying. Having lived through these epidemics, wars and the Partition has, perhaps,made Indians resilient, which is why post traumatic stress disorder is less common here.
A good functioning democracy is based on a Constitution and those which develop as and those which develop as and when the need arises. Broadly speaking, our Constitution seeks to work through the executive, the legislature and the judicial wings. We may add to this the media.
If the sight of migrant labourers sweating it out, not for an honest day’s wage but to somehow return home to faraway villages and towns has not hurt India’s conscience, nothing will. That the country’s workforce has been miserably let down would be an understatement.
The Government has strong apprehensions that ‘mass movement’ of migrant labourers will have ‘double blow’-first it will affect the company and secondly, it will ‘defeat the purpose of lockdown’.
NDA Came Back to Power
The media also played a very significant role but it started becoming increasingly partisan in favour of the Opposition. The NDA, under the charistmatic leadership of Mr Modi, swept into power in 2014. Even with events like faulty GST and demonetization and a faltering economy, the Opposition could not get its act together. The NDA came back to power on the back os tsunami in 2019.
The Opposition did not know what had hit them and were disorganized, demoralised-the Congress had and still has a leadership problem.
With an absolute majority, a non-confrontational judiciary, a complaint bureaucracy and virtually non existent Opposition, the PMO has started concentrating power in its own hand.
Today, the country is in a shambles, the country is in the grip of Covid-19, lakhs of labourers are out of jobs, industry is shut.
Mishandled Labour Issue (Legal Aspect)
Indian industry and agriculture survive and thrive on manpower, and the exodus of labour can bring all industry and development to a grinding halt. Our system, government, NGOs and other social organizations failed to assess the labour problems and solutions. A contingency plan at the national level is required to keep them staying at their place of work. Covid is, after all, a temporary crisis.
Now, when the labour laws are abolished or frozen temporarily, there is a legitimate apprehension that firms paying less salaries to contract labour may still continue to hire more contract labour. Since there are no labour laws in effect, the workers will be left at the mercy of employers. At a time when the unemployment rate has increased, and market wages have declined drastically, this call for abolition is unbecoming and unnecessary even if it is to boost firm outcomes. This policy will accentuate worker distress and place protection of worker rights at mercy of industrialists.
US President Donald Trump has said the coronavirus outbreak has hit America harder than the Japanese bombing or Pearl Harbor during World War II, or 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, pointing the finger at China.
16 workers desperate to return to their home state Madhya Pradesh were crushed to death by a goods train in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district. They had dropped off to sleep on the rail tracks, exhausted and unmindful of the danger.
These labourers avoided the highway in view of the restrictions on movement and chose a perilous path. They were hoping against hope to avail of the ‘free’ train facility even though their applications for transit passes had reportedly not yet been processed. It’s probable that going through the rigmarole of formalities such as getting themselves registered for the rail service and procuring medical certificates from government hospitals pushed them to brink.
Though, the railways had already run over 200 Shramik trains and ferried nearly 2 lakh people. The fact that some migrants are still undertaking long journeys by foot -as was the case when lockdown was first announced in late March- underlines the need to remove the bottlenecks.
Virtually no government has managed to convince the migrants to stay back. The assurance that they would be provided jobs as the lockdown curbs are increasingly eased has cut no ice with most of them.
Better coordination among the states and between various government departments can curb instances of people risking their lives and exposing themselves -and others-to transmission of coronavirus.
The best course is to help the workers return to their home states in a hassle-free manner. Despite being penniless and jobless, they have been law-abiding and patient enough not to venture out during the first six weeks of the nationwide lockdown. It’s time to end their ordeal so that they live to fight another day.