In its response, Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) cited studies and databases and criticised the government for its lack of data on migrant workers in India.

Migrant workers walking back home in a queue on the side of the road during the COVID-19 lockdown
news Controversy Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 17:53

The Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) has issued a statement against the Union government’s response that it does not have data on the deaths of migrant workers who left for their homes amid the COVID-19 induced lockdown. “The Ministry of Labour and Employment has exposed utter incompetence and callousness for the lives of the very workers it has mandated to protect. The government of India has absolved its core responsibility to compensate or address this issue by declaring that it has no data,” the statement said.

In its response, the network has presented key insights from eight different compilations and studies that have been put out by reputed organisations, economists, universities, research institutions and journalists. 

Stating that it will answer the question of the number of workers who have died during migration to their native places due to the lockdown, the network cited a database maintained voluntarily to note that during the course of the lockdown, as of 4 July 2020, there have been at least 971 deaths. In their response, they also mentioned that there may be many other cases that have not been included here but have been reported and fact-checked by civil society groups, the media and local administration.

When the government was questioned about whether most of the migrant workers returned home by walking due to no arrangements by the Union government, and was asked to give details and reasons, the government replied that it ran 4,611 Shramik Special Trains for convenience of the workers and that more than 63.07 lakh migrant workers have been shifted to various destinations. However, SWAN noted, “It was more than one month after the total lockdown was imposed without any relief for migrant workers stranded in cities without cash and food, that the Ministry of Home Affairs issued its first set of orders related to migrant travel. By this time thousands had already begun walking or reached home on foot, in what will be remembered as one of the largest movements of people since partition.”

SWAN also noted that as per the 2017 Economic Survey, there are about 13.9 crore migrant workers in the country. However, the Finance Minister announced a relief package assuming there are eight crore migrants. And the office of Chief Labour Commissioner stated that there are 26 lakh migrants. The network said, “in light of their own estimates, albeit conflicting, the GoI’s response stating that it does not have the data or does not have access to, it is an act of renunciation of its duties and an attempt to hide its negligence behind a purported absence of data.” 

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