Migrant Workers Desperation
Three cheers to Karnataka High Court! Finally, someone has shown empathy towards the migrant workers yearning to go back home, come what may. On Tuesday last, a double bench asked the State government, other than the Centre, to “take immediate decision on the question of paying railway fare” of those who are unable to travel “due to their inability to pay”. Its reasoning: No migrant worker should be ‘deprived of the opportunity to return home due to her/his inability to pay train fares’. Hearing a PIL on the grave crisis migrant workers in the State were facing during lockdown, the court noted while some States are paying for their travel, the Yediyurappa government has engaged in collecting fare from them for travelling on Shramik trains and if they are unable to pay it then “it will be impossible to facilitate their travel at a faster rate.” With over 2.13 lakh migrant workers wanting to return home in UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha etc, the court drew focus on their constitutional rights and that their inability to pay fare “is due to loss of work”.
Governments, stated the court, “must appreciate the major contribution made by migrant workers” in a large number of public and private projects which have “contributed to improvement of the infrastructure in all States, and improvement of economy”. Well said indeed. It is time for Prime Minister Modi, his Cabinet and Chief Ministers to remove the blinkers and see the agony and anguish of thousands of migrant workers trudging roads and national highways to get home. Yes, the Rs 20 lakh crore economic package makes headlines, but means zilch to them. Come to think of it, transport and food is all that it takes to make a difference— between life and death. They musn’t be India’s forgotten people. Is it asking for too much? While giving details of the mega package Finance Minister Sitharaman said: A sum of Rs. 11,000 crore has been given to States for taking care of migrant workers; support has been given to migrants and urban poor during the last two months; three meals a day have been provided to residents for Urban Homeless during the lockdown period etc. Then why is there an exodus of lakhs in trains or the long treacherous journey by foot?
Gujarat Minister In Dock
BJP-ruled Gujarat takes a big hit. On Tuesday last, the High Court set aside senior BJP leader and state Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama’s election from Dhokla in 2017 on grounds of “corrupt practice” and “manipulation of record”. He had defeated Congress candidate and petitioner Ashwin Rathod by a slim margin of 327 votes, who had challenged it saying the Returning Officer had illegally rejected 429 votes received via postal ballot. After 73 hearings, the judge said there was voluminous material on record to take the court to an “inescapable conclusion” that Chudasama and his election agent “have not only attempted but have successfully obtained and procured assistance from the RO…” Further, “all sorts of illegalities were committed, which include manipulation and falsification of record of the election, and ECI’s breach of mandatory instructions…” Worse, the “unholy nexus ultimately turned out to be quid pro quo arrangement” between the RO and Chudasama! Damning indeed, for the BJP too, as party spokesperson said the order was “shocking. The government is with him.” Following “guidance from Centre and state”, he said they will move the Supreme Court and “were hopeful to get justice.” Make good the loss?
Jharkhand puts a question mark on Centre’s initiative. How does it proceed with the proposed scheme to provide free foodgrains to all migrant labourers, including those who don’t hold ration cards, for May and June? While the State announced distribution of 10 kg of rice, pulses, oil and salt to returning migrants, it finds it difficult to reconcile this with the Centre’s package of 5 kg of rice and wheat per person and 1 kg of pulses per family per month, plus how to reach out to those not holding ration cards—around nine lakh. Clarity is necessary as while the Centre has offered to pick up the tab for the free foodgrains, it is yet to spell out the distribution system. If it is in cash, the State can adjust it against the books, but if the allocation is through grains, it will have to decide a course of action as it shall need to build an effective system if returning migrants are supposed to get rations. So far 6.85 lakh migrants have registered to come back to the State. New Delhi must think before it speaks.
Punjab Political Row
A slugfest between ministers and civil servants is brewing in Punjab. Not the opposition, there’s a revolt within the ruling Congress seeking ouster of Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh. Cabinet ministers, PPCC chief, MLAs are baying for his blood, putting Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh in an awkward spot as the bureaucrat was handpicked by him and the worry gets worse as liquor contractors, got caught in the showdown refuse to open vends. The top bureaucrat was divested of the additional charge of Excise and Taxation Department on Tuesday last after several partymen charged him with ‘conflict of interest’ saying the Excise Policy would help his son who apparently has links with liquor trade. Captain amended the Policy leaving out the contentious portions, but this hasn’t broken the ice. Instead, it has upset the liquor contractors as the new order doesn’t allow them to make good their losses incurred during 37 days of curfew. Besides, Captain has now to deal with demand for an inquiry against Karan for alleged revenue loss of Rs 600 crore in excise collections in last fiscal and a CBI probe into conflict of interest issue. The Captain is known to back his officials and have ministers tow his line. Will he be able to tide this crisis?
Sikkim is on cloud nine. The tiny Himalayan State has managed to keep the invisible enemy at bay. Past three months, it hasn’t got a single Covid-19 case! Timely caution and a lot of planning helped Chief Minister Goley manage to keep his people safe. Of course not without them maintaining discipline, and the administration having a dedicated team of police, health workers and cleaning staff on 24/7 call. The moment Kerala reported its first case in February, the authorities got cracking, put a ban on tourists (till September), announced strict lockdown before Prime Minister Modi did and sealed four of six borders. Now it’s planning a phased return of 5,000-plus people registered to come home and open up small hotels and home stays for them. It could, however, pick up a cue from Nagaland, which could have shared the distinction, but for one of its traders found positive in Assam. Kohima has offered Rs 10,000 each to its stranded citizens who opt to stay back where they are. Will there be takers? In the times of corona, it would be difficult to find fault with those wanting to return to the comfort of home and family! —INFA