migrant workers coronavirus

 Letter to the Prime Minister

To

Shri Narendra Modiji

Prime Minister

Dear Shri Modiji,

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued elaborate instructions to the States to observe a national lockdown by invoking the legal provisions under the Disaster Management Act. The Home Ministry has been admonishing all those States that have violated those instructions. The States in turn have been prosecuting all those individuals breaking the lockdown requirements.

The lockdown instructions are being so stringently enforced that lakhs of migrant workers stranded in different States are not allowed to cross the State borders.

I have come across hundreds of such workers bound for Odisha, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand etc. stranded in my part of Andhra Pradesh, around railway stations, bus-terminals, under the fly-overs and so on. The State govt here is reaching out to them to provide them shelter and food. However, most of them would prefer to proceed to their home States, but for the strictly enforced Home Ministry’s diktat. They stand exposed to disease, including COVID19.

The impact of the lockdown on the migrant workers has unleashed one of the largest humanitarian crises ever witnessed in India and elsewhere.

While some public spirited NGOs are extending help and relief to the migrant workers to the extent possible, the fundamental “right to life” that the workers have lost cannot and should not be replaced by charity.

I have enclosed two news reports in Telugu with self-evident pictures of how several migrant fishermen stranded in Tamil Nadu took to the sea route at a great risk to their lives and, after a gruelling five-day sea journey, landed in small boats on the coast of Srikakulam, the northernmost district of AP, only to be welcomed by the eagerly waiting local officials, rightly quarantined but, on the basis of the above cited MHA order, booked as “criminals” with cases filed against them. By no stretch of imagination, those who have lost their livelihoods as a result of a sweeping government diktat cannot be accused of crime!

There are thousands of Andhra migrant fishermen stranded in Gujarat, living in sub-human conditions, trying to return to their homes in northern districts of Andhra. They are not permitted to do so because of the MHA restrictions. One of them, Shri Mugipalli Kamaraju, suffering from a serious ailment, expired in Veeraval village in Gujarat last Tuesday, before he could return to his village, namely, D. Matsyalesam village in Srikakulam district. I have enclosed a news report that shows the heart rending picture of the fisherman in his death. His family, living on a marginal income, has not only lost its earning member but also its meagre livelihood. The attached picture should shake the conscience of the nation. Perhaps, the AP government is seeking MHA’s permission now to bring back the dead body of Kamaraju, by way of an exemption from the lockdown instructions!

On the other hand, those selected persons in authority seem to perceive the MHA instructions in a totally different perspective.

For example, tthe two State governments of UP and MP have sent more than 500 buses to Kota in Rajasthan to evacuate the students stranded there. The following news reports refer.

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/3000-students-from-kota-en-route-home-in-up-govts-buses-thousands-more-unsure/articleshow/75220686.cms

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhopal/mp-sends-buses-to-bring-students-stranded-in-kota-3000-to-reach-home-today/articleshow/75281278.cms

Both the State governments cited above have apparently violated the MHA instructions but, to the best of my knowledge, MHA has not invoked the relevant provisions under the Disaster Management Act to proceed against them.

In yet another glaring instance, an esteemed BJP legislator has arranged for transporting in buses around a thousand Andhra pilgrims stranded at Varanasi to their home places in AP. I refer to the following news report.

https://navbharattimes.indiatimes.com/state/uttar-pradesh/varanasi/lockdown-in-varanasi-initiative-of-mp-gvl-narasimha-rao-sent-back-home-of-one-thousand-pilgrims/articleshow/75168493.cms

In both these cases, that is, in allowing the students and the pilgrims to move in large numbers in buses, the respective State governments have not only violated the Disaster Management Act but also the “social distancing” norm about which you have asked the nation to obey!

Perhaps by a strange interpretation of its own lockdown instructions, MHA thinks that they do not apply to students and pilgrims, especially when those violating the instructions think that they are above the law of the land for special reasons! On the other hand, it appears to me that MHA and the Central government have a different perspective on thousands of the voiceless migrant workers who have found themselves abruptly thrown out of employment as a result of a highly ill-planned lockdown scheme imposed on them from above.

In other words, there is one set of laws for those advantageously placed in life and another for the downtrodden majority.

The other day, MHA has found fault with the Kerala government for not complying with its lockdown guidelines and asked that government to obey. Once again, there seems to be a clear discrimination even among the States, for whatever implicit reasons that seem to exist.

From whatever little I understand from the Indian Constitution, equality before the law is at the core of it. How can MHA discriminate between a helpless migrant worker struggling to live and the others who are far better placed in life? Does the government consider the value of the life of a migrant worker inferior to that of the others? These are serious questions that the government should answer.

The least that the Govt can do, even at this belated stage, to do justice to the migrant workers will be to arrange special trains to enable them to reach their homes. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra has already appealed to the Centre on these lines.

There are many among the migrant workers who are suffering from serious ailments and their return to their villages should be accorded the highest priority.

How about the Central and the State governments taking penal action against all those employers who were responsible for dis-employing the migrant workers in violation of the protective labour laws?

Mr Prime Minister, you may not choose to respond to this letter but the Union Government owes an answer in respect of these concerns to the public at large. The way the Centre and the States have treated the migrant workers amounts to a gross violation of the human rights.

I am circulating this letter widely for a public discussion and a debate on the concerns expressed by me.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI
Visakhapatnam


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One Comment

  1. Pankaj Pushkar says:

    Dear Sh Sarma ji,
    you have made very pertinent points but indian political establishment seem to have decided to unleash unapologetic discrimination against the workers and the farmers of this nation. It is time for the nation to wake up.

    Pankaj Pushkar