Migrant workers wait to cross the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border at Ghazipur on May 16 to go to their home states. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
Anger is mounting in India over the government’s refusal to pay compensation for the deaths of migrant workers during the national Covid-19 lockdown.
The federal Labor Ministry said it does not have any data for migrant deaths, so the question of compensation does not arise.
But Santosh Kumar Gangwar, labor minister, acknowledged that that more than 10 million migrants went back to their respective home states during the lockdown.
“The response from the government shows how serious it is about migrants, especially the poor, Dalits, tribals and downtrodden. It is very unfortunate but strange that the government has no data,” Father Eugene Perera, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ office for labor, told UCA News.
“For the last five months, the Labor Ministry took no concrete steps to tackle the situation of mass migration from the mega cities.
“It was all over the media about how many people died on the way back to their villages. Some were killed in road and train accidents while other died of hunger and diseases, yet the government says it does not have any data. What more should we expect from this government that is always anti-poor?”
Gangwar denied having data on migrant deaths during a heated parliamentary session on Sept. 14.
Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi said: "The Modi government does have any details about the death of the migrants and jobs lost during the lockdown. If you haven't counted, have the deaths not taken place?"
Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac described the response as "utter callousness" and accused the government of not caring about the deaths of migrant workers.
The government should at least have incomplete data about railway and road accidents, Isaac wrote on social media.
Minakshi Singh, an activist who helped many migrants during the lockdown, told UCA News that the crisis indicated an immediate need for proper data to ensure steps can be taken.
On May 8, in Maharashtra state’s Aurangabad district, at least 16 migrant workers were mowed down by a goods train, while at least 100 others were killed in road accidents across the country.
Less developed states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are the main source states of migrants who are mostly employed in construction, factories, domestic work, textiles, brick kilns, transport and agriculture.
They are often denied basic entitlements including access to subsidized food, housing, drinking water, public health facilities, education and banking services. They often work in poor conditions devoid of social security and legal protection.