How Rajasthan managed the migrant worker crisis

Subodh Agarwal | Updated on June 25, 2020 Published on June 25, 2020

From the beginning it followed a ‘no walking home’ policy. It closely coordinated with other States and the administration ensured that adequate food, shelter and transport were provided for the migrants

To prevent the spread of Covid-19, India had imposed a series of lockdowns starting end-March. This saw industrial and other establishments shutting down and transportation services coming to a halt. But no one expected to see millions of stranded labourers — the pillars of our economy — take to the roads on foot to reach their homes hundreds of kilometres away.

As for many States, the challenges of migrant workers for Rajasthan were huge and intricate. With no set model to follow for managing the crisis, the State started taking all possible measures to track the migrants and extend help. These included providing shelter, food, water, footwear, medicines, transport and Covid kits (masks, sanitisers, etc). Backed by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, the administration was clear about managing the humanitarian crisis humanely. Quickly, #NoToFootMovement, #KoiBhukhaNahiSoye, #RajasthanSatarkHai, and #ShrameekSpecialBus were put into action.

According to the State-level committee’s ‘Interstate Migration Report’, till June 6, over 24.68 lakhs migrant labourers had called and registered requests for help to reach home. Of these, 48.31 per cent were registered for outward travel and 51.69 per cent for inward.

Leadership guidelines

From the beginning, the message of Chief Minister Gehlot was clear — no one should be walking on the road to reach home. And this was followed up diligently by the administration. By arranging over 174 trains and 14,000 inbound/outbound bus/private vehicle trips, the Rajasthan Government helped 13.43 lakh inboundand 6.13 lakh outbound migrant labourers, with a total spend of ₹25.25 crore.

Be it any mode of transportation, no migrant labourer, either outbound or incoming, was asked to pay for his/her journey to reach home. Additionally, the State launched a round-the-clock Shramik Special Bus Service from May 18. The State government was able to manage the migrant movement in the safest possible way in these challenging times.

State machinery in action

On April 26, the Chief Secretary formed a State-level committee for Inter-State Migration and that gave a push to creating a ‘winning strategy’. We put our best officials to test the water. Language connect was taken into consideration while deputing the officials. Those in the team who knew Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, etc., were selected and given the first task of interacting with other State government officials to bring ‘emotions’ into the dealing.

We then took a series of quick decisions to create new roles and responsibilities for the officials to ensure that processes, logistics, and infrastructure were put in place. It started with setting up a platform where migrants could register their request (call centre), arranging trains/buses, establishing shelters and camps with provisions of food, water, medicines, and other necessities. Also, entry posts were created for migrants coming back, with health check-up and quarantine facilities. The dedicated teams of nodal officials were in continuous touch with other State governments to ensure hassle-free travel of migrants.

Since the first train on May 1, about 1.71 lakh migrants were sent back to their homes and nearly 64,000 were welcomed by the State government. Using 15 trains, almost all migrant students of Kota, and two special trains, carrying pilgrims, were sent back to their homes. Rajasthan was one of the first States to begin a rail service for migrants.

There were instances of people beginning to walk but as our network was vigilant, patrolling the roads, they were accommodated in buses and trains. They were first medically screened and later dropped at their destinations safely.

As we launched the ‘no to foot movement’, each district reported safe travel, and no incident was reported where an individual had gone hungry or without water. We also arranged private vehicles, wherever needed, to send every individual home. .

Other key initiatives

While the State government was working on a war footing managing the inter-State migrant movement, we were also monitoring the requests of Rajasthani migrants stuck abroad. The Centre planned to bring back about two lakh foreign migrants, of whom 8,500 were registered to reach Rajasthan from different countries.

Over 3,800 Rajasthani migrants have already reached the State and more are to arrive in the coming days. In keeping with Central and State government guidelines, all of them are going through stringent health check-ups and then being sent to quarantine centres for 14 days.

Our team has also been receiving many requests from people who have lost their loved ones, to allow them to perform the last rites. We started ‘Moksha Kalash Special Buses’ and till June 2, 3,443 people have travelled to Haridwar by 101 buses carrying 1,757 kalash.

The writer is Additional Chief Secretary, Industries, Rajasthan, and Head of State Level Committee for Interstate Migration.

Published on June 25, 2020
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