According to the third report by the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) which was published on June 5, 67% of migrants are still stuck in the same place since the lockdown was announced, while only 33% have haven been able to leave. As per the report, of the workers who are stuck, 55% want to go home immediately, and 75% of those who are still stuck in places they had migrated to for work, do not currently have any employment.
The report, titled, “To Leave or Not to Leave?” talks about the lives of the stranded migrant workers during the lockdown and analyses the issues being faced by these workers. SWAN has been doing relief work for migrant workers throughout the lockdown in the form of zonal helplines for rations, money for basic essentials and travel. SWAN has interacted with more than 34,000 workers and has transferred more than Rs 50 lakh directly to the workers’ accounts by connecting individual donors to workers.
The report pointed out that each stage of lockdown has been characterised by different types of distress faced by the migrant workers. In the first two stages of the lockdown, the main concern and need of stranded migrants were food and some money in hand to buy basic essentials. It said, “While migrants were struggling to meet food and cash needs, their woes were compounded by the chaos created by the central government vis-a-vis travel for the migrants. The spate of deaths of migrant workers in road accidents, exhaustion due to walking long distances, dehydration, hunger, and police brutality continue unabated.”
Also read: A Month After Lockdown, Food Distress Continues to Remain High for Migrant Workers: Report
As the second phase of lockdown was drawing to a close, on April 29, the Ministry of Human Affairs (MHA) issued its first travel order permitting movement of inter-state migrants. An MHA order dated May 1 permitted the travel of inter-state migrants by special trains to be operated by the Ministry of Railways. Since April 29, the MHA has issued at least eight different travel orders. The report said, “Barring one letter dated May 18th sent by Ajay Bhalla, Secretary, MHA, to all the Chief Secretaries, every order has been lacking in imagination and empathy. In fact, even the letter sent to all Chief Secretaries is not easily available in the public domain. The orders appear to be an afterthought in trying to contain this manufactured crisis instead of resolving it. The number of trains have been highly inadequate.”
Despite an interim order issued by the Supreme Court on May 28 saying that migrants will not have to pay for travel, more than 85% of the migrant workers surveyed by SWAN who have returned home or are in transit have had to incur costs for this journey. According to the report, the order by the SC came too late.
From May 15 to June 1, based on 821 distress calls received that corresponds to 5,911 migrant workers from across the country, SWAN found that 80% still do not have access to government rations. There has been some improvement since May 22, but the massive exclusion indicates that food distress among stranded migrants remains almost as high as in the first phase of the lockdown.
The report noted that the only silver lining in the current situation is that 75% of migrant workers surveyed are not being threatened with eviction by their landlords. It added, “But this may very well be the case because they are leaving anyway and landlords do not want to lose potential rent.”