Less than 34,000 inter-State migrant workers in 2019-20, says government

No workers were registered in Delhi, Patna; No data on Shramik Special deaths, says responses to RTI requests.

In the last five years, there have been no inter-State migrant workers registered in the Delhi, Dehradun or Patna regions. Nationwide, there were less than 34,000 workers registered in 2019-20 under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (ISMW) Act, 1979, according to a response to a recent Right to Information Act request.

In response to another recent RTI request, the Indian Railways said it only keeps data on “casualties arising from consequential train accidents”, and thus has no information regarding deaths on the Shramik Special trains which transported migrants during the lockdown.

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On Monday, the Labour Ministry told Lok Sabha that it had no data on the migrant workers who lost their jobs or lives during the lockdown. However, it claimed that over one lakh migrant workers returned to their home States during the lockdown.

The ISMW Act, which came into force four decades ago, is meant to protect vulnerable workers who leave their own home State for employment, most of them hired through contractors. It applies to every establishment and contractor who has five or more migrants on their rolls and prohibits their employment without a certificate of registration. According to the Act, each registered worker must be issued a pass book with details of employment, wages and benefits.

In response to an RTI request filed by activist Anjali Bhardwaj, the Central Labour Commissioner (CLC) provided data showing that only 33,776 migrant workers were registered under the Act in 2019-20, according to monthly reports from regional offices.

The highest number of registrations came from the Kochi regional office in Kerala, with over 7,800 workers, followed by Dhanbad in Jharkhand (almost 7,496) and Chennai in Tamil Nadu (6,623). On the other hand, Delhi, Dehradun and Patna regions registered zero migrant workers last year, and for the last five years.

Despite this clear evidence of failure to follow the law, there have been less than 200 inspections carried out under the Act from March to December 2019, the CLC data said. Although more than 2,000 irregularities were identified in this period, less than a thousand were rectified, and just 40 prosecutions were launched under the Act.

Ms. Bhardwaj also filed another RTI with the Ministry of Railways, asking for the number and details of people who died on Shramik Special trains since May 1.

“The Safety Directorate of Railway Board maintains the data of casualties arising out of consequential train accidents only. During the period from May 1 to June 25, there were no deaths on the Shramik Special trains due to the consequential train accidents,” said the response.

In a case filed in June in the Supreme Court, faced with reports of more than 80 deaths on Shramik Specials, the Centre claimed that all the deaths were due to earlier illnesses, not due to lack of food, water or medication.

Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants

In a recent suo motu writ petition on the plight of migrants during the lockdown, an SC bench observed that necessary registrations have not been carried out under the ISMW Act and other acts to protect unorganised and construction workers, “due to which large number of migrant workers and unorganised labourers are unable to reap benefits of the said enactments.”

In a June order, the SC had said, “The first step in this regard is to maintain a record of all such migrant workers, who have arrived at different places, towns in different States… so that necessary helps can be extended by the State authorities and district authorities to these migrant labourers….”

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