The Plight of Returnee Migrant Workers of West Bengal

Harasankar Adhikari

The entire nation has been witnessed the difficulties of migrant workers (food, shelter and no scope to returning to their native place) due to unplanned and sudden lockdown. After long agitation, debate and pressure, the government took measures to transport them to their native state. Many of them took life risk for their home return. A large number of migrant workers (the actual figure is missing because of absence of any database of these workers to the state authority) of West Bengal returned to their respective homes after passing fourteen days quarantine nearby their locality organised by the local authority. The size of the migrant workers' population reminds, whether the magnificent development of the state is cosmetic or substantive. It is evident that the  government has failed to create employment particularly for the youth  so that they had to migrate into other states for their survival.

Although government of West Bengal promised to provide all necessary amenities and would arrange alternative livelihood for them, it is practically a false promise. Now they are in a critical situation, and their life is badly impacted without food and jobs, etc.  They are not entitled to get ration as per declaration of government. Only they are getting ‘khechuri' (gruel of rice and lentils) in some places.

Ratan (32) of Purba Medinipur district had to work at the workshop of a renowned jewellery company in Mumbaii since 2012. After completing his college education, he tried for a job. But he did not get any scope. So, he left the state with his friend who was already a reputed jewellery worker in that workshop. He joined there as a trainee worker for six months. Then, he got a full-time job as a skilled worker. He earned a handsome there by which he maintained a seven-member family. But now he is in trouble because he is not getting any job at their natal place. So, he said, ‘I am trying to arrange Covid free certificate and anyhow, I have to reach my company. Otherwise, my family would die without food.’

Another returnee migrant worker named Masud (38) of Howrah district, a skilled ready-made garment worker had been working in a ready-made garment factory in Chennai for the last 15 years is also trying to leave his home because here he is not getting the job. He shared, ‘I tried to find out a job. But there is no opportunity. Then, there is also a problem with getting proper wages. I am hopeless, and this is a pathetic situation. I do not know how to survive with my family.’ When he was asked about the benefit of the ‘Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan Yojana', he sadly opined, ‘we are always the victims of narrow party politics'. During the left front rule, there was a conflict between the central and the state because the colour of the ruling party was different. There was a blame game. Now the same thing is repeated, and it is the everlasting battle. As a result of this, migrant workers of this state are deprived of this scheme. However, daily wage under this scheme is very low compared to our daily earning. Further, the pattern of work under this scheme is not fitted with our skill. Here I have noticed that job card holders under the MGNEGRA are jobless and their daily living is absolutely depended on the ration.’

The living and working status of returnee migrant workers is in an adverse milieu which had been recorded from a conversation with Shovan (25) of Murshidanad district who was a head mason of a construction site at Bangalore. He got one thousand rupees as his daily wages. It was the only source of living for his five member family. Due to the poverty of his family, he left his school at class IX standard and joined as a helper of a mason. He remarked, ‘government is unsympathetic to us. It has no strategic planning for the  job replacement of huge migrant workers of diverse trades. Here, I am searching for a job. It is a few and due to fear of infection, almost everybody has postponed  their construction related work. Needless to say, daily wage is also very less (one third of wages I used to get in Bangalore). I have always in touch with my workplace in Bangalore. I have to return there to save my family. Here, we could not sustain. Here, politics have become a priority. People (ultimately the voters):in distress are not so much concerned because the political party knows how to control and manage the voters at the time of the election.’

Last of all, opportunity under the MSME (a central sector scheme) is not yet functioning in this state, which might be a remedial measure for these migrant workers. This government is popular and fascinated to introduce populist schemes and it always ignores the sustainable  need of the people of the state. Thus, the future of returnee migrant workers is doomed,  and they along with their family would die, if they stay in this state. A huge diversely skilled human resource should be protected. It is evident that they have a significant contribution to bring changes in the economic and social transformation in society as well as cultural and political landscape also. Therefore, they should not be ignored and neglected in any situational crisis, considering the progress and development of the state as well as country.

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Aug 16, 2020

Harasankar Adhikari

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