Respect the human rights of migrant workers | HT Editorial – Editorials
The migrant worker crisis triggered by coronavirus disease (Covid-19) took a new turn when the Karnataka government canceled special trains to take workers to their home states on Tuesday. The decision was made after Prime Minister BS Yediyurappa met with representatives of the construction industry, who expressed concern that work will stop if the workers leave. The CM defended the decision, saying that the state is providing facilities to workers, including Rs 5,000 to all registered workers. It has also announced a stimulus package of Rs 1,610 crore. But in the face of criticism, the government backed off and decided to resume train services on Friday.
The controversy highlights the crucial role that migrant workers play in maintaining India’s economic engine. But this cannot have the cost of restricting workers’ individual freedom and their ability to exercise free choice. Karnataka’s initial decision showed that political regimes are indifferent to the needs of migrant workers, who are often caught up in labor exploitation agreements. These workers have been trapped for about 50 days, with a severe shortage of money and food. They are desperate to return to their homes, their families and communities, in search of a degree of psychological calm.
The decision to step back in the face of growing hostility from workers and criticism from across the spectrum is a positive one. Because, basically, it is not about the economy but about fundamental human rights. Migrants must be able to choose whether they want to stay or leave. Forcing them to stay was reflected in a tendency to treat workers as bonded laborers. Hearing the comments and changing course, Karnataka did the right thing.