Migrant workers treated as ‘outsiders’, says NHRC study
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) study on the social security and health rights of migrant workers says that this politically invisible section of the society doesn’t get access to even basic facilities and they are looked upon as outsiders or second class citizens in the host states.
The human rights body’s study has come at a time when India is witnessing the second wave of Covid-19 infections and there are reports of migrant workers beginning to return home from their places of work.
As part of the study, commissioned by NHRC and carried out by ‘Kerala Development Society’, the researchers interviewed around 4,400 migrant workers, local workers, employers/contractors, state government officials, elected representatives, scholars, experts, NGO representatives, trade unions members across four states/UTs, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, all of which house a large number of workers from West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
Most of the migrant workers who come to Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana work in low income and high-risk sectors such as construction, heavy industry, transport, services, and agriculture, and have poor access to health services, social protection, education services, housing and sanitation, food, water and other utilities.
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For example, about 84% of the respondents in Delhi did not have proper accommodation or stayed in poor quality accommodation, according to the study. Inter-state migrants also don’t have access to good health care, except Delhi, where Mohalla (neighbourhood) clinics have been a help, the study added. Female migrant workers show a higher prevalence of nutritional deficiencies and have poor access to reproductive health services in comparison with local labourers, the study pointed out. As a result of intense and daily exposure to toxic air, a section of interstate migrant workers, especially female ones, suffer from asthma, cancer and reproductive health complications. “According to the field survey, 68 % of women covered by our survey do not have access to toilets as they live in slums or squatter settlements,” the study added. In Mumbai, about 62 % of migrant workers live in slums. The study claims that 43 interstate migrant workers die every month in Delhi, 35 in Gujarat, 41 in Haryana and 38 in Maharashtra due to accidents at construction sites, suicide, and stomach related diseases and heart ailments.
It adds that the dead bodies of migrant workers are not sent by contractors/employers to their homes and are instead sold to some private medical colleges for about ₹2-3 lakh. HT could not immediately confirm this independently. However, no police complaint has yet been filed to this effect.
The study said there is “no institutional mechanism either at national level or at state level to address different types of human rights violations against interstate migrant workers.” “In fact, migrant workers live in inhospitable cities and villages.” In September 2020, the central government announced that it will prepare a comprehensive database about all the migrant workers in the country; but work on it is yet to start. The database was supposed to be compiled by June 2021.
About 92.5% of migrant workers in Delhi, 90.5% in Maharashtra, 87% in Gujarat and 86% in Haryana, according to the NHRC study, say the local population considers them outsiders and discriminates against them. And 57% of migrant workers in Delhi, 65% in Gujarat, 59% in Haryana and 69% in Maharashtra report that employers discriminate between interstate migrant workers and locals in the labour market in terms of wages and accommodation. “Lack of political representation in the home state or host state is an area of serious concern. In effect, they are often treated as second-class citizens in host states,” the NHRC study added. Jacob John, president of Kerala Development Society, said: “Interstate migrant workers never got policy attention.”