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India's Displaced Population

While privileged people like us sit at home, thinking about the next dish that we’ll try or the next cloth that we’ll put up on and get ourselves clicked, there are lakhs down the road and across the street who think themselves lucky to get a one-time meal from someone while not getting caught in the trap of COVID-19. According to a recent World Bank Report (“COVID19- Crisis Through A Migration Lens”), 40 million internal migrants have been displaced from their places of work since the nationwide lockdown was imposed. The same report also quoted that 50,000-60,000 have moved from urban to the rural centers of their origin within a span of a few days. While the rich have everything delivered at their doorsteps, the poor migrant population which also battles with hunger, starvation, illiteracy, and poor hygiene was caught unawares amidst the darkening clouds of the viral infection. They had nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat; which raised another crisis for the migrants as well as the Indian government to face- the migrant's crisis. The government then ramped up their efforts and sought to provide food and shelter to these people. Shelter homes were set up, food was distributed and awareness camps were organized. The daily news reports clearly show the multi-dimensional effects the virus is having on the homo sapiens.

The government in these times is governed by either the Disaster Management Act, 2005, or the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. While under the former, the Union issues orders, the latter is to be played out well by the State. It is quite interesting to note that both of these are being considered as archaic laws in today’s scenario. None of them deal with labor or migrants’ woes. There is no synchronization between both these Acts on any subject matter, either. Public health is mentioned under the State List but the ancillary subjects such as food, medicine, et al are the subjects on which the Union has jurisdiction.

Conclusively, both the Centre and the State can make laws on it. Apart from it, it is covered under Article 47 of the Constitution as well (DPSP) Again, Labour is in concurrent List giving power to both Centre and State to form laws on the same. At this point in time, what the labor needs are supportive measures but some States have passed “Ordinances” which leave them nowhere with regards to income and employment. This clearly contradicts Article 43 which provides for a ‘living wage’ and not merely wage. Although it is a DPSP, still a State owes some duty towards their laborers. Taking the shield of DPSPs won’t protect the State from the most powerful constitutional weapon, i.e. Article 21.

Interestingly, migrants do not feature on any of the lists and hence go unnoticed. Having no specific migrant-law has clearly not worked out. Only economic measures will not be taken to survive this virus for these people. A long term policy and a revamp of the archaic epidemic laws is a must. A migrant specific law must be brought out to deal with problems that only migrants suffer from – losing out on employment during the epidemic, losing out on family connection, loss of shelter, discrimination, biases, and redressal mechanisms which need to be followed if the State fails in its duty. The Act must seek to achieve coordination between the States and the Union. It should lead to more stability and less chaos.

Sooner or later, the government has to realize, migrants and laborers are the backbones of any economy and it would be wise to choose not to ignore them, in any way, whatsoever.


Sanighdha, 3rd Year Student Pursuing BA LL.B (Hons) from University Institute of Legal Studies Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Editor: Vijayalakshmi Raju

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