“We had nothing but the clothes of the affected workers to identify them at the building collapse site,” said Rekha Ravi, joint collector for Nellore.

Supervising rescue operations at the site, she said migrant workers had no identification documents nor were they registered by their home State or the host State as per existing rules. A large number of dead workers at the site were migrants.

K. Ramana, a migrant worker from Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, who was injured in the accident, said he had no idea he was eligible for identity cards from the Tamil Nadu government. He said he had pinned all his hopes on the promise of the Srikakulam collector to pay compensation to all affected workers.  

What the Moulivakam accident glaringly exposed was the lack of implementation of the action plan for migrant workers and their children, drawn up by the Tamil Nadu labour department two years ago, in consultation with civil society organisations.

Geetha Ramakrishnan of the Unorganised Workers Federation said the most basic need for registering workers had not been undertaken (see infographic).

P. Karuppusamy, additional labour commissioner, said while schemes such as Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and the Right to Education Act, 2009, adequately addressed the needs of migrant children, and schools were set up for them, the workers themselves had little or no protection.

As R. Vidya Sagar of UNICEF pointed out, though the action plan was meant to rehabilitate migrant children, addressing the problems faced by migrant worker families was equally pertinent. In Moulivakkam, for instance, most migrant workers on the site had left their children at home.

Though an inter-State coordination committee existed to register migrant workers coming into Tamil Nadu, its functioning was affected due to lack of adequate coordination from source States.

The revenue department was supposed to enumerate these workers to make them eligible for State benefits such as the public distribution system and healthcare, as per recommendations but these remained on paper.

Mr. Karuppusamy said an elaborate migrant worker mapping exercise across the State was under way, in order to assess the gaps in implementation of welfare measures for the community.

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