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Coronavirus lockdown | 26 lakh migrant workers in halfway houses, says official data

This is an extreme underestimation, going by the other assessments made by Central and State governments, including Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s estimate of 8 crore stranded migrants.

June 04, 2020 10:45 pm | Updated June 05, 2020 12:50 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Migrant workers in Odisha set to go to a quarantine centre.

Migrant workers in Odisha set to go to a quarantine centre.

The Chief Labour Commissioner’s office has counted over 26 lakh migrant workers stranded across the country, of which 10% are in relief camps or shelter homes, while 43% are in situ at workplaces and 46% are in other clusters.

This is an extreme underestimation, going by the other assessments made by Central and State governments, including Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s estimate of 8 crore stranded migrants used to determine extra ration provisions in the Atmanirbhar package. On April 8, even as the first wave of workers was leaving the cities due to the lockdown, CLC (Central) Rajan Verma wrote to his regional heads, telling them that “comprehensive data” on migrant workers was “urgently required within three days”.

Full coverage | Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

They were asked to collect district-wise information on relief camps and details of employers whose labour was in situ at the workplace, as well as other localities where migrants were clustered.

However, when RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak requested this information, the CLC’s office responded on May 5 , saying the information was not available. The Central Information Commission (CIC) held an urgent hearing of the appeal on May 27 and ruled that the information must be uploaded on the CLC’s website within a week.

The document now available on the CLC website gives State-wise data on stranded migrants, saying that there are a total of 26,17,218 across the country. Chhattisgarh had the highest number of almost 11 lakh, of which 8.6 lakh are in clusters outside workplaces and shelters. Kerala has the largest number in relief camps, with 1.3 lakh out of a total 2.8 lakh stranded migrants in camps.

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“The first step towards resolving a problem in public administration is to collect adequate information and data about the problem. The CLC’s action of demonstrating some measure of compliance with the CIC’s advisory is to be welcomed as a good start,” said Mr. Nayak. “However, there is no indication of when this data was collected and whether it is reasonably complete.” He pointed out that the Centre has said 91 lakh migrant workers have returned in trains and buses organised by the government, well after the CLC’s order, which counted only 26 lakh stranded migrants. The CLC’s figure of 88,852 stranded migrants in Karnataka is only a fraction of the 11 lakh figure for the State that was submitted to the High Court, he said.

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“I am hoping that they will be more forthcoming with such information in the coming days. However, if this is all they have managed to collect after the D.O. was issued, it is indicative of the inadequacy of existing structures to channel adequate information to the CLC in real time,” he said.

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