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As migrant workers stare at dark days ahead, experts call for urgent relief

NEW DELHI: When the lockdown was first announced, Vimla, 35, along with her husband, walked for five days from Faridabad, where both worked as a construction worker, to Mauranipur in Uttar Pradesh be with their two children. She was looking forward to April 15 with the expectation that the shutdown would end and so would her troubles. But with the lockdown extended and with rations and the little money she had saved dwindling, she is uncertain how to cope with the days ahead.

“Nobody is ready to give us rations even on credit. I have two children, how will I feed them? My children were studying in school. I do not know how I will educate them when this ends. There is no work in the village,” laments Vimla.

This is the dilemma thousands of workers across the country are facing. Experts say the government needs to announce adequate relief packages to ensure workers have access to essential items. According to the Economic Survey 2018-19, over 90 per cent of India’s total workforce belong to the ‘informal’ sector. In the absence of livelihood options, thousands of migrant workers have tried to reach their hometowns from cities amid the lockdown.

JNU professor Jayati Ghosh says there is an immediate need to release the food stocks and “the government should also announce stimulus packages.Shankar, a migrant worker from Berhampur in Odisha, has been stranded in Surat. “We have nothing to eat. Whatever little we have will be over in a day or two. They were showing on TV that we do not need to pay rent. But our (house) owner has been constantly haranguing us to pay the rent and electricity bill,” said Shankar, who works at a garment factory in Surat. “We will return home at the first opportunity. Food prices are rising. How will we survive?” he asks.

The hope of being able to return home once the lockdown is lifted is what has kept Amos of Kurkura village in Jharkhand going despite limited restricted rations and lack of wages in Gujarat’s Karanj village, where he worked in an apparel factory. “I feel mentally disturbed. I want to return home,” he says.

Pointing to the lacunae in the government’s ration distribution, Sudhir Katiyar, secretary, Centre for Labour Research and Action, said, “People without any ration cards have not received any ration. In some areas in Gujarat, people have already resorted to begging for food.”

Divya Varma from Aajeevika Bureau, an organisation working with migrant communities, said, “A significant number of people do not have access to the relief measures announced so far. A majority of them do not have access to PDS.”

Ranu Bhogal, director of policy research and campaigns at OXFAM, says the government should carry out an exercise to enumerate migrant workers stranded across states and  come up with a plan to facilitate their movement and screening.

Poor states see more outflow of migrants
As per Economic Survey 2016-17, the pattern of flow of migrants showed less affluent states see more migration and the most affluent states are largest recipients of migrants.

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