By Narendra Sharma
NEW DELHI: Migrants in the country are denied all facilities available to the other citizens because they have to leave their hearths and homes in search of livelihood. They work harder, are paid not even a minimum wage. Though, they too contribute to the health and wealth of the people if and when they are able to get work.
Estimates of the migrant population in the country vary widely. The 64th round NSS survey, for instance, places the number of internal migrants in the country at 30 million. However, various micro-level studies suggest that their number ranges between 100 and 120 million. One reason for this wide difference is stated to be that NSS survey takes into account only permanent migrants; it cannot cover the seasonal or short-term labour and others being kept by contractors on move from place to place. This incidently also underlines the need of a concerted effort to overcome this knowledge gap on migrants, for otherwise, their sufferings will remain unattended.
The Eleventh Five Year Plan did take into account issues related to migration but mainly in the rural-urban context and accordingly proposed certain steps and suggested a two-pronged approach. First option was that the quality of infrastructure in existing cities should provide better municipal services to larger number of people and, second was that development of new suburban townships as satellites to reduce the influx of population. Besides, development of small and medium industries like village and cottage industries; handlooms, handicraft and food processing and agro-industries were also considered important in reducing rural-urban migration. PURA (provision of urban amenities in rural areas) was another programme which was said to be meant to check rural-urban migration.
On the one hand, these steps are not being implemented with the urgency they deserved and, on the other, complete neglect of agriculture by the Government has actually increased the trend towards migration, calling for greater attention to help reduce growing sufferings of migrants.
The Inter-State Migrant Workmen’s Act (ISMWA) 1979 is the only piece of legislation that is expected to take care of migrants problems. The fact of the matter, however, has been that this law has rarely been touched to solve their problems. Moreover, the social organisations engaged in helping migrants in the country say that growing problems of the migrants in the context of changing economy, the ISMWA has become mostly obsolete and needs redrafting. Not only ISMWA but even the Contract Labour Act is being ignored by the policy-makers, giving corporates and contractors freedom to play havoc with the Migrants and Contract Labour. Much has been written about the working and living conditions of the migrant workers engaged in the Commonwealth Games, 142 of them lost their lives unwept and unsung.
The demand charter put forward by the 11 Central Trade Union Organisations (CTUOs) before their nationwide strike on February 28, did specially take into account the problems of all the unorganised workers including contract, migrant workers and others when they demanded social security, minimum wages for all, provident fund for all. The problem is that the UPA-II Government is least concerned about implementing labour laws.
Instead, the Manmohan Singh Government is trying to divide the organised and unorganised workers by introducing and encouraging more and more contract workers even in regular/permanent jobs and discouraging formation of unions. State Labour Departments are also being conveyed a similar message. This forced the CTUOs’ countrywide strike to specifically focus on the demand that all union formation applications should be registered within 45 days. This obviously is going to be a long struggle due to the prevailing system and embedded corporate-centrism among the ruling elites.
There is yet another factor that needs to be kept in mind, which if ignored, can possibly may weaken the CTUOs long-drawn struggle. This refers to certain NGOs that are widely active cutting across states in support of the migrant workers.
For instance, reports show that a number of civil society organisations have got together under the Wada Na Todo Campaign (WNTC – Do-not-break-your-promises-campaign) were working on an approach, hoping to present a number of suggestions on migrants to the Planning Commission. Their main focus was on ensuring “registration and identity cards” for the migrants. They say, that through registration and identity cards, the migrants will be able to get rations at ration shops and avail of PDS in urban centres and also avail of places to have cover over their heads – all this is denied to migrants (temporary, casual, seasonal) in urban areas. CTUOs have not given a thought to such a possibility though even provision of social security will need an identity for the unorganised, migrants or otherwise so that they can avail of it, if and when Government bends to this demand.
Yet another NGO called The National Coalition of Organisations for Security of Migrant Workers (NCOSMW) going by the nomenclature Coalition has been taking up social and economic issues of migrants. It wants a transparent National Level Policy on migrants. It has underlined the need to effectively implement “social security” provisions for migrants, creation of data base of migrants at panchayat level/urban local bodies and also needed changes in law covering migrants.
Identity card and social security for migrants should be on a national scale and not confined to an area or state, migrants, seasonal, temporary away from their rural homes should be so indicated and accordingly registered. All of them are just ignored by NSS. Ailing workers, pregnant women among migrants – all can get necessary facility at their destination area – whether they are there for shorter or longer duration.
Objectively speaking, migrant workers are real builders with their honest, hard labour but have to live and suffer miseries. Men with Capital claim to be builders, authorities register them as such; they earn profits at the cost of labour are live in luxury. This is the prevailing system. Workers’ struggle to have a more human socio-economic system is going to be long. The only option before migrants, unorganised workers and all is to unite and fight for it. (IPA)