May 03, 2020

Return Migrant Workers to their Homes

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, on April 26, wrote to Prime minister Narendra Modi on the measures that need to be put in place in order to fight and defeat the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that the sudden and abrupt announcement of the lockdown had left the people and the state governments completely unprepared to meet the grave consequences and suggested 12 measures that are needed to be taken by the government.

Suggesting that the government should provide free food to all needy migrant workers, he said that the urge among the migrant workers to return to their homes has seen surging crowds in huge numbers seeking to leave for their homes as they have lost all means of livelihood and shelter. This in itself negated one of the objectives of the lockdown, of maintaining physical distancing in order to contain community transmission of the pandemic. He said that hunger, malnutrition and homelessness continue to plague the lives of crores of our people. “Since the announcement of the lockdown we had suggested that the central government must immediately provide free food to all the needy. Huge stocks of foodgrains are rotting in our central godowns. These should be sent to the states for free distribution. Neither of these demands has even been considered by the government with you as the prime minister,” he wrote.

Highlighting the issues of the unemployed youth in the country, he wrote that it has been estimated that the absolute number of unemployed rose from 340 lakhs to 880 lakhs between February and April, i.e., an additional 540 lakhs of people lost their livelihood. In addition, another 680 lakh people have moved out of the labour force. He said that since the outbreak of the pandemic, a staggering 12.2 crores of people have lost their jobs and livelihood. During the six weeks coinciding with the lockdown from early March to April 20, the unemployment rate shot up from 7.5 per cent to 23.6 per cent. In his letter to the PM, Yechury wrote that it is imperative that immediately the central government transfer Rs 7,500 per month for the next three months to all who have lost their livelihoods. “Surely, if a staggering Rs 7.76 lakhs of crores of loans taken by the super rich and corporates can be waived off by your government during the last five years, there should be no shortage of funds to feed and support the majority of our people,” he said.

Yechury said that the states are in the battlefront in combating the pandemic. “They require both adequate finances and supplies of foodgrains and other essential commodities. No such support has been forthcoming from the central government so far in any meaningful manner. A crisis has been created by the rapid announcement of a nationwide lockdown for the migrant workers. You are now asking the state governments to provide shelter, food and maintain physical distancing and other restrictions of the lockdown. This is patently unfair.” He also pointed out that even the outstanding dues of the state governments over GST collections have not been paid to them yet. He said that the funds must be liberally transferred to the states forthwith.

He said that thousands of crores of rupees are being collected in a fund by a private trust that bears the PM’s name. It has been officially stated that this fund shall not be audited either by the CAG or any other government-appointed auditor. Deductions from salaries of government employees and others are being forcibly transferred to this fund even if they are formally donated to the official Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund. He demanded that these funds be immediately deployed to meet the requirements to strengthen the fight against the pandemic.

Urging the prime minister to stop wasteful expenditure during the crisis, he said, “It is amazing, bordering on criminality, that the central government plans to continue with unnecessary wasteful expenditure like its central vista project with a new residence for the prime minister and other public relations exercises at the time of financial distress to meet this grave medical emergency.” He said that the legacy of this government during the last five years of spending money on statues, bullet trains, propaganda campaigns etc instead of public health care, education etc must be stopped forthwith. The requirements of battling the pandemic must be prioritised, he added.

Mentioning the issue of grave shortage of the Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) to the frontline workers, he said that it is universally acknowledged that lockdowns are to be used to aggressively test the people and to provide personal protection equipment to our doctors and health workers so essential to contain and defeat the pandemic. He said that unfortunately, despite a long lead time that India had compared to many other countries, necessary preparations were not undertaken. “Even now, after a month of lockdown, our testing rates remain one of the lowest in the world, shamefully even lower than Pakistan. Health workers do not have the required PPEs and tragically some have succumbed to the virus. Even at this stage, it is imperative that equipment for both testing and PPEs must be provided on a war footing,” he wrote in the letter.
Urging the prime minister to ensure provision of universal healthcare, he wrote that while the central focus is to battle the Covid pandemic, India cannot afford to see a larger number of non-Covid deaths because of lack of medical attention to those suffering from non-communicable diseases. “Reports estimate that more than three lakh children and lakhs of pregnant mothers have been deprived of crucial life saving vaccines during the lockdown. More than a lakh cancer patients and 3.5 lakh diabetics have not got the required treatment. Even programmes like Malaria eradication and TB have shown huge decline in the last five weeks. There are reports of huge shortfall in blood supply in blood banks, so crucial for people with blood disorders like thalassemia, hemophilia and sickle cell disease. Surely, such a situation cannot be acceptable and must be corrected forthwith,” he wrote.

He said that the grave situation of accelerating of positive cases in states like Madhya Pradesh with huge fatalities are directly connected with the naked lust for political power by the BJP violating all norms at a critical time of a public health emergency. He added that the toppling of an elected government and the swearing in of a BJP government had left the state without any political leadership and the ordinary people are paying the price for this alarming spread of the pandemic.

By now it has become the habit of the central government to issue orders that cannot be understood followed by multiple clarifications and even rescinding those orders, he said. “We saw the track record of such a dismal governance model when demonetisation was undertaken. Clearly, the political executive in the country is proving its incompetence by knee jerk reactions,” he said.
Warning against communal polarisation, he wrote that the battle against the pandemic can only succeed when the country and all Indians are united. The irresponsibility of the Tablighi Jamaat organisers cannot be the excuse for targeting the entire Muslim minority community and deepening social divisions and communal polarisation.  This only undermines India’s strength while spreading communal hatred, he said. “The impact of such a communal campaign is now being felt in many countries of the world where a large number of people of Indian origin work and reside. It is upto the political leadership i.e., the central government to put a stop to this forthwith. Otherwise it would be the greatest disservice both to the fight against the pandemic and the people of our country,” he said in the letter.

Urging the PM to return the stranded migrant workers to their homes, he said that the central government had correctly evacuated a large number of Indians stranded in foreign countries when the pandemic broke out. Special planes were organised to bring them back to India, he reminded. “However, it is impermissible for the central government not to make any arrangements, if not planes, but at least by special trains and buses, maintaining the restrictions of the lockdown to transport the migrant workers back to their homes. This must be undertaken at least now,” Yechury added.
He also said that further many Indians continue to remain in foreign countries and that the central government must make arrangements for their return like many other countries in the world are doing including airlifting their citizens from our country.

“Mr Prime Minister, you have shown a singular disdain to face the media and reply to the concerns of the Indian people, unlike many of your counterparts in the world. Leaders of the government in most countries address regular press conferences and answer questions,” he wrote in the letter. He said that conducting regular press conferences is the only way to remain accountable and to give confidence to the people that the government is both competent and in command of the situation. “In fact, many state governments in India do this. The chief minister of the LDF government in Kerala holds a daily press briefing and outlines the measures that the government has taken to generate the confidence required for the people to face this challenge. Democratic accountability is grossly missing in your style of governance,” he wrote.