India’s nationwide lockdown came into force on 24th March 2020. Every citizen was affected by the lockdown but the Migrant Workers were the ones who were most badly and seriously affected. Migrant Workers were on the roads and they were either being crushed to death or by vehicles or from acute hunger, thirst, or desperation to reach their villages. Migrant workers are those who migrate from their home in search of employment but they don't have any intention to stay permanently at that place. They migrate only to earn money and livelihood.
The condition of migrants in the Country violated their Right To Life - Article 21 of The Indian Constitution which means “ The right to live a life, the right to live with human dignity, the right to shelter, the right to health”, and all these rights were infringed as they did not have shelter, food health care facilities, nutrition, sanitation, etc.
A lot of promises were made on national television through the media by the Central, State, and Opposition party but nothing was implemented and was blamed on Judiciary.
According to Census 2011, India has 5.6 crores, Inter-State Migrants. Most of them come from the unorganized sector, daily wagers and most of them don’t even have an identity card. They work for contractors on large construction projects with no fixed working hours, ill-treated, and were not even paid by the contractors.
A survey was conducted by Stranded Workers Action Network, the report explained that the rate of hunger and distress exceeds the rate of relief. The network also personally surveyed 11,000 migrants and found that many of them were on the edge of starvation, sometimes not having eaten for more than 4 days and often with just 1 day worth of ration remaining. They also revealed that 89% have not received their salaries, 78% had less than Rs. 300. They could not provide their kids with basic nutrition or even a one time meal.
No one can blame the pandemic, but the implementation and shortcomings in the labor laws and laws for migrant workers can be blamed. The pandemic situation revealed the truth of the implementation of the laws and also the defects in the laws. Migrant workers lost their dignity, they suffered badly, many of the women were pregnant and had to deliver their child on the roads without any sanitization and forget about a healthcare facility, they did not even have food or shelter which is the basic necessity. There are many laws relating to migrant workers and most of the people were not even aware of them, in fact not even the migrant workers. The legal framework for migrant workers had many laws.
The Occupational Safety Health and Working Conditions Code, 2019. It was introduced in Lok Sabha in July 2019. It replaced 13 labor laws and the act. It strengthens the migrant labor rights. It provides that when a contractor recruits the labor, the contractor should obtain a license, or else the labor must be employed by the principal employer.
The Inter-State Migrant Workmen(Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. It was enacted to prevent the exploitation of the laborers by the contractors and to ensure fair and decent conditions of employment. The law provides that all the inter-state emigrants need to be registered and the contractors who hire them should also have a license. Contractors were asked to provide all the necessary details of the laborers. Migrant workers should be paid the same as the normal workers and should be provided with displacement allowance, journey allowance, and payment of wages during the journey. Contractors were also required that every worker should be paid equally without any discrimination and provisions like accommodation, medical facility and clothing should be provided to the laborers.
The Unorganised Workers' Social Security Act 2008 provided social security and welfare of the unorganized workers like daily wage workers. The Act received the assent by the President on 30th December 2008. The act provides for the constitution of the National Social Security Board at the Central level which shall recommend the formulation of social security schemes viz life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old age protection, and any other benefit as may be determined by the Government for unorganized workers. As a follow up to the implementation of the Act, the National Social Security Board was set up on 18 August 2009.
The Constitution of India and Human Rights laws also provide rights to every citizen of the country and all the rights were violated during the pandemic situation. And because of the non- implementation of the laws the migrants had to suffer and many of them had to give up on their life which is the basic fundamental right provided to everyone. There are so many acts and laws already provided to the migrants but when they were to be of the most use all the laws were silent.
The only issue was with the implementation of the laws. The government, on the second day of the lockdown, announced a relief package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore for the vulnerable sections of the society. But on the fifth day of the lockdown the Disaster Management Act restricted the movement of the migrants and were asked to provide with the nearest shelter for a minimum period of 14 days as per the standard health protocol. The neglecting legal framework with respect to the migrants creates an illusion that the government is going above and beyond to provide everything for them.
The migrant workers are not given enough rights also, whereas some of the people are also allowed to vote by post, but workmen don’t even ask for more, they just want the government to provide them the basic necessities to live their lives like shelter, food, proper working conditions, fixed working hours, the equal wage is this too much to ask for in the country like India, where democracy and federalism prevails?
The lacuna in our legal system is the proper implementation of the laws. Justice P. Bhagwati once wrote in the judgment that “The Central Government is therefore bound to ensure observance of various social welfare and labor laws enacted by Parliament for the purpose of securing to the workmen a life of basic human dignity in compliance with the Directive Principles of State Policy,”.
The Parliament has provided various laws but avoided the importance of execution or implementation by the State Government or by the Central Government. This does not affect the privileged section of the country but the actual sufferers are the underprivileged section of the society which we saw recently during the lockdown situation, especially the migrants.
The State Government and the Central Government should have bounded, collected the data, and helped the weaker section so that they did not have to suffer in the pandemic situation. The legal system must fill this gap or The Supreme Court should make a committee only to check the execution and implementation of various laws that are already in force. This committee should also keep a check on the states individually for the implementation of the laws.
To conclude, I would like to say that we as a society have failed to provide basic necessities to the weaker section of the society and they are the ones who are not aware of their rights, benefits and legal system. We as a united nation (the government, the judiciary, and the citizens) should work together to make them aware and provide basic necessities to the underprivileged section of our society to fight this pandemic together and not to alienate them when they are in the need of our support.
Written by: Chaitali Bagai, Student, JV University, Jaipur
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any person or official associated with Legis Orbis. Examples of analysis performed within this article are only examples. They should not be utilized in real-world analytic products as they are based only on very limited and dated open source information. Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of any person or official associated with Legis Orbis.