Bihar polls: Migrant workers set to vote against Nitish Kumar

Gross failure of NDA govt to help them in distress will favour the Grand Alliance. They strongly nurse feeling that the election is the best opportunity to teach political leaders some hard lessons

Bihar polls: Migrant workers set to vote against Nitish Kumar

Arun Srivastava/IPA

The thousands of migrant workers who had re-migrated to the cities and their earlier places of work, before fleeing to their native place in the wake of onslaught of the corona epidemic, have started coming back to Bihar to participate in the electioneering.

Their coming back has sent NDA leaders into panic, as before returning to the cities, they had expressed deep anger and anguish at the attitude of the Nitish Kumar government towards them. While the state government was completely averse to help them survive the crisis of hunger and deprivation, Nitish Kumar did not resort to any measure to support for sustaining incomes or rations.

The labourers were left to fend for themselves. There going back to their place of work did not imply that they managed to overcome the crisis. True enough, it was acute worsening of their economic condition that forced them to take the risk.

They are coming back to ensure that Nitish and the NDA government lose the election. Lockdown impact continues to affect migrants. They are deprived of the livelihood. The public distribution system is completely at the mercy of the God though some manage to get its benefit. But that supply is not sufficient for the survival of entire families. Currently there is no proper system in place to absorb migrants under the public distribution system.

The labourers are simply surviving. They cannot claim to live. With no regular job, they are finding it tough to manage. If the migrant labourers are to be believed, at least 60 per cent of them had no work at all. After the treatment meted out to them just after Narendra Modi announced the lockdown, they had vowed never to step out again following the miseries of the initial days of the lockdown, but they did not have any alternate job to survive.

The report “Migrant workers: A study on their livelihood after reverse migration due to lockdown” by the Inferential Survey Statistics and Research Foundation, a body of retired Indian Statistical Service and Indian Economic Service officials, is quite revealing. The survey covered 2,917 returned migrants from 505 gram panchayats in 34 districts in Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. It found that their average monthly income had, after their return, fallen from Rs 13,683 to Rs 2,045 – a drop of 85 percent.

These labourers are also cut up at the statement of the Labour minister Santosh Gangwar in the Lok Sabha on September 14 wherein he had said that 80 crore people were being provided 5 kg wheat or rice and 1 kg of pulses free every month in addition to their usual entitlements under the National Food Security Act. The labourers challenge them to prove his observation. They strongly nurse the feeling that the forthcoming election is the best opportunity to teach the political leaders some hard lessons.

Though the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), which promises every rural household up to 100 days’ work a year, has managed to salvage the image of the Modi government, in reality it did not serve the labourers as was expected or publicised. In most of the places the government could not provide sufficient work to the labourers. Only a handful of workers could get the benefit.

The survey found that while the job scheme was supposed to absorb a substantial number of the returned migrants, it provided employment to just 3.53 per cent of them. While many of the returned migrants did casual work for an average of 4.59 days a week, nearly half were paid less than the minimum wage. The survey found that 50 per cent of the migrants were salaried workers before the lockdown while 42 per cent were casual workers and the rest were self-employed.

These labourers also ridicule Nitish for his claim that Bihar has been progressing under his leadership. They question that if the state has really progressed, then why it has not succeeded in creating sufficient jobs so that the people should not migrate to other states. They argue that no doubt the migration started during Lalu Yadav’s time, but under Nitish rule it has acquired a magnum character. Bihar’s per capita GDP has only slipped to the lowest in the country. Unemployment has risen. Migration hasn’t stopped. Industrialisation is slow. This is his biggest failure.

The workers are also angry with him for his reluctance in the initial stage to allow them to come back. They sought an answer as to why he did not intend to allow them to come back home.

The migrant labourers say that Nitish Kumar at no stage tried to use their skill for the development of the state. A large section of the labourers are skilled. They have been in industrial or construction sectors. Not one of the workers was approached by the government for skill mapping or for providing them guidance for any kind of livelihood options in their home state. Nearly 75 percent of the workers are young, below the age of 35 years and close to 70 percent of them belonged to the Scheduled Castes. Only 13 percent of the workers were from the general category. They allege that since a majority them do not belong to general castes, probably that was the reason that the BJP government and Nitish Kumar were averse to their miseries.

Families of most of the SC workers live in harijan ghettos. They do not own enough land to sustain their families while living in the village. They are scared that their plight would worsen with job opportunity becoming non-existent. On March 31, the Supreme Court, while entertaining a writ petition, had observed that migrant labourers should be dealt with “in a humane manner” and that “trained counsellors, community leaders and volunteers must be engaged along with the police to supervise the welfare activities of migrants”. But Nitish government has been least interested to implement the directives at the ground level.

The Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance has released its manifesto focussing on farm laws and jobs. It has promised to increase the number of MGNREGA working days from 100 to 200 and establishment of Karpuri Shramveer support centre.

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