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Has India messed up on its human capital amid lockdown?

Has India messed up on its human capital amid lockdown?
June 03
18:17 2020

Capt Krishan Sharma
India Post News Service & Agencies

There has been no crisis larger than the recent migrant laborers, nearly 50 lakhs of them, fleeing across the country to reach their hometowns since the lockdown.  All government agencies and political parties are blaming each other for the mismanagement. There is no doubt the central government needs to take responsibility for this colossal crisis.

However, each and every Indian citizen and the business leaders have equal responsibility to take care of their labor force. After all, migrant laborers, countrywide, are the human capital supporting the industries big or small. In all major cities across India every family, middle class upwards, depends on the migrant population for their housework.

They are the nuts and bolts of the country. During lockdowns the segment of society consisting mostly migrant population became the victims. With mass layoffs, unable to pay their rent, fear of virus and starvation, they made an exodus to their hometowns. Coming from villages crisscrossing the entire country, most of them belong to states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and have very small or no land holding. They migrate to major cities for work, as there are no opportunities in rural India.

 The Central and State Governments did try their best to arrange for their return but failed terribly due to mismanagement and poor coordination by the administration. The government machinery failed completely resulting in the worst human crisis India has faced after the partition when the British left.

For instance, in Tamil Nadu 1,600 workers were left quite confused after the railways informed them about the special train only an hour prior to its departure. They could only leave from Tamil Nadu with last minute interventions by senior politicians.

In the case of migrant workers from West Bengal, a Minister from Maharashtra said, “He is willing to send back those from West Bengal and the railway is providing logistics, then why the state is so reluctant to receive them”.

On the other hand, the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath directed officials concerned to do skill mapping of migrant workers so that they can be provided employment once they complete the quarantine period. UP is one of the few states that has already signed a MoU with the industry to provide one lakh skilled labor after lockdown, according to sources.

Another sad and heart wrenching video about a toddler pulling the shroud from the dead body of her mother at Bihar’s Muzaffarpur railway station has gone viral on social media, highlighting the tragedy of the migrant workers going back to their native places.  The video shows a toddler trying to ‘wake up’ the dead mother at a station platform.

While, PM Modi said the corona virus crisis has provided India with an opportunity to become self-reliant and emerge as the best in the world.

“India has surprised the world with its unity and resolve in the fight against the corona virus. There is a firm belief that we will also set an example in economic revival. In the economic domain, through their strength, 130-crore Indians can not only surprise the world but also inspire it,” the Prime Minister said.

The need of the hour is to become self-reliant, Modi said, stressing that “We must become self-reliant”. “We have to move forward based on our own abilities, in our own way, and there is only one way to do it – Atma Nirbhar Bharat or Self-reliant India,” he said.

The recent Rs 20-lakh crore package given for Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan is a major step that will open up new opportunities for all sections including farmers, workers and entrepreneurs. This initiative, he said, will usher in a new era of opportunities for every Indian, be it our farmers, workers, small entrepreneurs or youth associated with startups.

“The fragrance of Indian soil along with the sweat, hard work and talent of our workers will create products that will reduce India’s dependence on imports and will move towards self-reliance,” he said.

On the above package a senior Congress said, “The so called Rs 20-lakh crore economic package has now been analyzed by the experts, and its total cost works out to less than one per cent of the GDP. It has come as a rude shock for anyone who was expecting some respite”.

Calling India’s Rs 20.9-lakh crore stimuli inadequate, in providing for recovery of an economy pummeled by COVID-19, former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has said the package gives free food grains but migrant workers, rendered jobless by lockdown, need money to buy milk, vegetables and cooking oil and pay rent.

The world is facing the greatest economic emergency and almost any resource is inadequate, he said. “I think it is particularly so in the case of India because we have years of an economic drift in which our growth had slowed, our fiscal deficit has gone up. There is a lot more we need to do to put economy back on track. “We have to pull all the stops,” he said in a recent interview with Karan Thapar.

Madhya Pradesh CM Chouhan said, “There is humanity and sensitivity involved in this crisis”. Who are these migrant workers? They are our brothers and sisters. They went out for earning a livelihood. If they want to come back, Madhya Pradesh will welcome them with open heart”. He said arrangements have been made not only for the workers of the state but for those from other states as well.

“We have brought back a large number of migrants of our state. As many as 1,000 buses of Madhya Pradesh have been pressed into service to drop migrant workers of other states to our state borders so that they don’t have to set off on their journey on foot. Whether they are from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand or those coming from south-western states, we are looking after each one of them,” Chouhan said.

The Supreme Court said it has also received several letters and representations from different sections of society highlighting the problem of migrant laborers. “The crisis of migrant laborers is even continuing today with large sections still stranded on roads, highways, railway stations and state borders.”

Adequate transport arrangement, food and shelter, are immediately to be provided by the Centre and State Governments free of cost, added the bench. 

”They (migrants) have also been complaining about not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or on the way i.e. highways from which they proceeded on foot, cycles or other modes of transport”, said the apex court.

Amid all this, Bollywood is not behind. A short film directed by Shailendra Singh, producer-director of  “Kacche Din”, to be released soon, tells the reality and creates awareness of the living conditions of migrant workers.

Several migrant laborers have lost their lives trying to reach home by road amid the lockdown. Singh says he is heartbroken and hence felt the urge to tell the story. “We use these poor people to build our lifestyle, our cities, our businesses, and when they are in trouble, we set an agenda to throw them away. If our administration had the minimum compassion to these people, they would have not died on the road. The real dark side of the system has come out this time.”

Leading stars like Akshay Kumar who led by donating 35 crore to PM CARE fund for COVID-19, was later followed by several others Bollywood fraternity, including actor Sonu Sood, Farah Khan and Big B pooling in resources for the return of migrants. Efforts like these will make a big difference from time to come.

Successive governments kept promising them but not until Modi came to power that several initiatives were directed towards improving the livelihood of villages and particularly farmers. The need of the hour is to immediately take corrective action against the difficulties faced by the migrant population. The government must take initiatives like UP and see that migrants can return to their respective employers with dignity.

The industry leaders are equally responsible and must share the cost burden of the government. They must not only look at the financial bottom line but alsoview this issue with compassion towards their fellow countrymen. The people who toil and work for the benefit of the nation should never be forgotten. If Modi really wants to achieve a 5-trillion dollar economy,this is a golden opportunity for him, to step up the financial aid needed by the migrants. If the government fails to provide many of them may not return to their workplace, which will further create problems for an already depressed economy. These corrective actions will ultimately ensure rich dividends.

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