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Securing the future of migrants | HT Editorial – Editorials


In a significant, albeit delayed, directive, the Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday asked Union states and territories to identify stranded migrants and organize their transportation back home within 15 days. It has also called on administrations to drop the cases brought against migrants for violating blockade guidelines and Indian Railways to ensure train availability within 24 hours if there is demand. The Center and states have been asked to prepare a detailed list to identify migrants. The court has ordered that all available job opportunities and schemes for migrant workers must be published; and there must be job aid and skills mapping.

The SC’s decision comes more than 75 days after the national shutdown, imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), which led to a humanitarian crisis. Migrant workers, suffering from a severe shortage of food and income and eager to return to their families and communities, began to walk home, before the Center, in early May, introduced special trains and buses for their transportation. But this process has been fraught with complications. There was a controversy over train fares (before the court intervened to say that immigrants cannot be charged); there have been difficulties in center-state coordination on trains; norms of social distancing have often not been observed; migrants have had to wait days, if not weeks, to get on the trains, causing many to walk; many have died of starvation and fatigue. All this has led to a socioeconomic tragedy that is almost unprecedented in the independent history of India; This scale of movement of people has not been seen since the Partition.

This newspaper has argued that the SC was negligent in not addressing the issue of migrant workers before. He only addressed the issue on May 26, two months after the crisis began. Without a doubt, your intervention is now welcome. But it is not only the judiciary; The main blame for not anticipating the needs of migrants and not providing an adequate safety net lies with the executive. It must now accelerate the movement of return migrants, and both the Center and state governments must plan ahead. While the National Rural Employment Guarantee System (NREGS) has become an indispensable policy tool to provide income to those who have returned, governments will have to do more to guarantee employment, even if they focus on addressing the spread of the illness. The plight of migrant workers has undermined the credibility of the state and has caused great distress. It is time to correct mistakes and find ways to give them a decent future. The SC must continue to monitor this.

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