By Tirthankar Mitra
Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee missed the wood for the trees when she expressed concern at the death of five persons from West Bengal in a Mizoram stone quarry collapse recently. The deaths of four persons from Nadia and one from North-24-Parganas are a pointer to the gulf between the showpiece business conclaves held in the state and the fruition of the projects announced amidst much fan fare.
Maximum number of persons who died in other states had gone there to work are from West Bengal. The states where these persons from West Bengal have breathed their last are Mizoram, .Manipur and Kashmir, the chief minister said.
It would be an unpleasant surprise to the powers that be in West Bengal that the migration for jobs is a statewide phenomena. Apart from persons from Nadia and North-24-Parganas in south Bengal, Rajbanshis mostly residents of north Bengal leave for north and western India in search ofi livelihood, according toa paper published in IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science ,(International Organization for Scientific Research) identified migration from north Bengal to other states thereby making search for livelihood outside West Bengal a statewide phenomena. .
A slump in the labour intensive tea industry in north Bengal can be stated to be a cause in the trek for greener pastures. Time the chief minister put on her thinking cap and found out that BJP nominees are emerging victorious in successive elections riding the wave of resentment of the local populace towards Trinamool Congress candidates who have failed to check the internal migration of the sons of the soil.
A peasant getting arrested for asking the chief minister the reason behind shooting up of the price of fertiliser is hardly the prescription for unskilled farm labour of staying put in the state. Official apathy coupled with the crippling effect of the fallout of successive lockdowns have accelerated the migration process.
As part of the national economic scenario, West Bengal is a labour surplus state. But the surplus which the formal sector of economy have failed to absorb prefer to move away from the land of their birth to places where they can find succour and sustainance amidst an unfamiliar land like Mizoram and sometimes in hostile areas like Kashmir.
Banerjee is yet to be accused of promoting crony capitalism. But in her haste to be a people’s messiah, she has forgotten her promise of creating alternative jobs after the pandemic. To call a spade by no other name, she has failed to rope in the highly skilled labour in the state economy after they had returned home losing their jobs in power, construction and ornament industry in other states.
The migrant workers all over the nation are unaware of the legislation enacted for them. Be it a Union government project of a low cost rental scheme for housing them or an interstate legislation for migrant workers; respective state governments are in a hurry to enlighten the men who may leave their home state to earn their living but return home to exercise their franchise lest they stand the risk of losing citizenship..
Left with little option, these labour force of West Bengal had to return to jobs which were fraught with risks. It ranged from picking apples in orchards of Kashmir braving the separatists bullets to working in stone quarries in Mizoram which they were unaware that the stone they were at work within would collapse on them.
A less than generous monsoon stood in the way of these individuals leaving them without an option to work in fields of the state as farm workers. It is another matter that the .men who died in a stone quarry in Mizoram and those picking apples in Kashmir orchards are sitting ducks for the separatists bullets were loath to leave West Bengal
Gone are the days when the siren of mills with smoke emanating from its boilers’ chimnies was accompanied by long line of labourers making a beeline to their place of work. The rapid tramp of technology has seen to it that much work can be done nowadays with a few personnel.
But that ought not to be the sole cause of manual labour from the state seeking their bread elsewhere. If it holds true for jobless workers from labour intensive jute mills in West Bengal what prevents residents of a state like Maharashtra dotted with cotton mills migrating to other states.
The medium and small scale industries have shown positive rate of growth in the Trinamool regime. But their intake of labour is not in the scale of the traditional industries which have rolled down the shutters.
Little did Banerjee into her third term of office realise that she was turning the spotlight into the shortcomings of her government’s policies when she said that majority of the workers killed in different accidents of late are from West Bengal. Shouted from the rooftops, the claims of “unnayan” (development) of the state sound hollow in the backdrop of these deaths.
The chief minister’s assurance of financial assistance to the bereaved families gives the tragedy a curious turn. The financial aid in the hour of need will certainly bring some succour to the bereaved family members, but one is tempted to ask whether the “compensatory funds” would have been put to better use by providing employment avenues nearer home in keeping with the state government promise did not live up to its promise of providing work to the jobless who had returned home and remain down and out till date.
The possibility of silencing her critics by the announcement of financial relief by the chief minister for the deaths of people from her state in distant Mizoram cannot be ruled out. Be that as it may, migrant workers from West Bengal are nowhere in a position to look forward to a life near their home in foreseeable future. (IPA Service)