Officials must note the flight of migrant workers from cities where mobility curbs have been imposed. This signals another round of acute economic distress unless irrational curbs that do little to stop Covid aren’t dismantled. Unlike last year’s massive exodus following the nationwide lockdown announcement, the current outpouring is smaller. But it’s incumbent upon governments to closely monitor the situation and prevent a replay. Workplace closures render poor migrant workers’ continuance in cities untenable. With trust quotient already running low, misinformation among them could also be rife.
In the name of suppressing Covid, economic activity is getting stigmatised even as political gatherings get a free pass. States like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have announced tighter restrictions just after elections in which leading politicians and their party workers roamed the land unmasked. EC’s eight-phase Bengal election seems another unmitigated disaster. Ordinary people must now pay the price for irresponsible politicking. Another double standard is allowing large, crowded, unmasked religious congregations while the economy is treated as dispensable.
Prioritisation of politicking and religion over livelihoods, without the luxury of the liberal stimulus cheques that accompany lockdowns in the West or massive vaccine outreach, is cruel and irrational. The migrant worker is the first casualty; the middle class and businesses will follow too if “corona curfews” continue. A Niti Aayog draft national policy on migrant workers, after last year’s bitter experience, emphasised approaches to integrate them into social and official consciousness. Despite contributing immensely in states where they earn livelihoods and send remittances to, migrants get scarce political recognition or social support nets at either end. Lockdowns are a new affront to their self-worth. Fight the Covid second wave through masking, testing, vaccinating and ramping up critical care facilities, instead of trampling upon the dignity of labour.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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