Providing migrant workers a political voice
Niti Aayog has formulated a draft national policy on migrant workers. According to a report in The Indian Express, the policy, prepared in consultation with seven ministries, civil society organisations, and international institutions, proposes instituting mechanisms to “enable voting” for migrant workers because their political inclusion will enhance political accountability. It also suggests setting up inter-state coordination mechanisms between states to facilitate migrant movement; making migrant wings a part of labour departments; and getting source states and destination states to work with each other.
The migrant crisis, triggered by the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the pandemic, saw, according to official figures, over 10 million migrant workers returning home. The pandemic also revealed the fact that the Indian State doesn’t have adequate data and information about this large pool of citizens. This was quite astonishing since migration has been an integral component of India’s political economy, and the presence of migrant workers routinely places additional demands on basic infrastructure in destination towns and cities.
The Niti Aayog draft, which will now be sent to the labour ministry, en route to Cabinet and Parliament, has several excellent workable ideas. A key issue is creating political incentives — the fact that migrants are spread out, and may not end up voting in either source or destination states, means that they have often been underestimated as a political constituency. Enabling their political voice will be key to making them effective stakeholders and forcing the system to take their interests on board. The economy has been opening up and many migrant workers have started going back to their jobs, but this issue must not be relegated to the margins. It’s time migrant workers get the respect, protection and rights they are entitled to as citizens.