Skip to main content

Chief Labour Commissioner has no data of stranded migrants despite April 2020 circular


By Venkatesh Nayak* 
The lockdown imposed by governments since 25 March, 2020 to contain the spread of COVID-19 epidemic across India, now in its 3rd phase, has hit migrant workers, among others, the hardest. Not a day goes by without stories of their travails being highlighted in the print, electronic, digital and social media. What is the magnitude of migrant workers under distress due to the lockdown? Is it four million, or forty million or much more? The Office of the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) under the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment claims, it does not have State-wise and district-wise data despite the CLC directing the Regional Heads based in 20 centres across the country to enumerate every migrant worker stranded due to the lockdown within three days during the second week of April, 2020.

The Problem Leading to the RTI Intervention

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and their children who had migrated out of their home States to other cities, towns and villages in search of gainful employment, suddenly found themselves jobless and penniless as the economy came to a grinding halt due to the lockdown. With inter-State borders sealed during the first two phases of the lockdown, they had few options for keeping body and soul together and the Corona virus at bay. They were forced into government-run relief camps or shelters or compelled to remain at the worksites of their employers or simply bundled up in clusters near highways and other open spaces. Reports of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers protesting their forcible incarceration and demanding they be allowed to return to their hometowns have come from Kerala, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Surat, Mumbai and other places. Some tried to find their way back home travelling inside water and milk tankers and concrete putty mixers paying hefty sums of money to owners who sought to profit from their suffering. Even more heart breaking are stories of migrant workers, walking alone or in groups, hundreds to thousands of kilometers under the blazing sun to get back to their families and some perishing within reach of their homes. Meanwhile many of us saluted other frontline workers combatting the virus with sound and light shows, flypasts and fireworks on the seas.
Amidst this humanitarian crisis of gargantuan proportions, on 08 April, 2020 the Office of the Chief Labour Commissioner issued a circular to his Regional Heads based in 20 centres across the country to collect data about every stranded migrant worker in every district and State. Templates were issued for data capture during the enumeration process. Both blue and white collared workers were to be enumerated in this manner. The Regional Heads were given 3 (three days) to collect this data and send it to the CLC.
Click here for the CLC’s circular.
After waiting in vain for almost two weeks for the official announcement of the results of the enumeration exercise, on 21st April, 2020, I submitted an RTI application with the Office of the CLC through the RTI Online Facility, seeking the following information under the RTI Act:
“Apropos the D.O. dated 08 April, 2020 issued by the Chief Labour Commissioner to all Regional Heads regarding urgent collection of data about migrant workers who are stranded and placed in various temporary shelters/relief camps arranged by: the State Government authorities, employers IN-SITU/at workplace itself, and where they are generally clustered in some localities: I am seeking access to the following information available in your office, as on date, under the RTI Act, 2005:” Click here to read more.

The CPIO’s Reply

On 5th May 2020, a day after the 3rd phase of the lockdown began, the RTI Online Facility sent me an automated email stating that my RTI application had been disposed of. When I checked the status of my RTI application on the website, instead of a proper response under his name and signature, the CPIO has entered the following reply: Click here for the CPIO’s reply.
There was no indication whether my RTI application would be transferred to any other section or public authority, or if any effort would be made to collate the information from the enumeration exercise and make it publicly available.

What is wrong with the CPIO’s reply?

Under the RTI Act the CPIO has only three options available while dealing with an RTI application:if the information sought is not available with one’s public authority, it must be transferred to another public authority which may have custody of such information; or supply the information after collecting copying charges (which would not apply in my case as I did not ask for copies, but requested proactive disclosure on the website); or reject the RTI application if it is covered by one or more of the exemptions provided in Sections 8, 9 or 24.
The CLC’s CPIO resorted to none of these actions. He did not even send a signed reply. Most other CPIOs upload a scanned copy of their reply on the RTI Online Facility in addition to emailing it to the RTI applicant under their name and signature. So the CLC CPIO’s cryptic one-liner reply raises serious doubts about availability of data about migrant workers despite the launching of the enumeration exercise. Click here to read more.

RTI activists suggest measures for more transparent & accountable implementation of the COVID Relief Package

Two days after the CLC issued its circular seeking enumeration of migrant workers, CHRI organsied a webinar of RTI activists and advocates of transparency to take stock of the effect of the lockdown on people in general and the vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in particular. Participants from across 12 States and UTs came identified several problems with the manner of implementation of the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana Relief Package. They also identified some practical solutions for relieving hardships people have faced due to the lockdown. These suggestions continue to have relevance for most parts of the country during Lockdown 3.0.
Click here for the detailed report of the proceedings of the webinar.
Click here for a summary of the problems and possible solutions in Hindi.
Will the Governments pay attention to these practical suggestions coming from the grassroots level, remains to be seen. Meanwhile I will keep you posted of future developments in this RTI matter.

*Programme Head, Access to Information Programme, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

Constitution day makes us remember and rethink the values that India stands for

By Dr. Kapilendra Das*  India, also known as Bharat, was liberated from British rule and gained Independence on August 15, 1947. So every year on 15th August we celebrate Independence Day throughout the country. The Indians felt the taste of freedom, but there were no rules and regulations to govern the country for which British rules were effective up to January 25, 1950. To govern India, the draft constitution was prepared by the Drafting Committee which was published in January 1948, and the same was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, the day of an important landmark in India’s journey as an independent, Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic, Republic. The constitution so adopted came into force on 26 January 1950. To memorize 26 January, every year we observe Republic Day throughout India. To mark rethinking and remembrance of the day of adoption of the constitution of India, 26 November has been celebrating as “Constituti

Integrating biodiversity for poverty removal still not binding for this UN body

Reacting to a statement of the executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity ( CBD ), United Nations, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, on the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which fell on October 17, well-known Thiruvananthapuram-based ecologist S Faizi has objected to the CBD’s plan for “effective integration of biodiversity for poverty eradication”. *** I compliment you for issuing this statement . However, I am disappointed to see that the CBD COP's output on poverty and biodiversity, namely the Chennai Guidance is not even referred to in your statement, particularly so since the 12th COP has asked the Executive Secretary to "continue the work requested by the Conference of the Parties in decisions X/6 and XI/22, for the effective integration of biodiversity for poverty eradication and development, taking into account also the related decisions of the Conference of the Parties at its twelfth meeting" and to promote the Chennai

Seventh most vulnerable nation, effects of climate change can be seen in Bangladesh

Mashrur Siddique Bhuiyan*  From November 6–18, 2022, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt is hosting the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This two-week climate conference is critical for the globe because it occurs at a time when nations are coping with a global energy crisis, the conflict in Ukraine, rising inflation rates, and dwindling funding for climate adaptation. It also has great significance for Bangladesh, as the country's ability to maintain its economic growth depends on raising the necessary finances for urgent climate action and mitigation. This year’s theme is "Delivering for People and the Planet," which aims to hasten global climate action by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, fostering resilience and preparing for climate change's unavoidable effects, and increasing the flow of climate finance to developing nations. The goals of COP27 are based on the outcomes of COP21, which was held in Paris in 2015

Unsung, tens of Morbi youth of local fishing community saved many, many lives

By Rajiv Shah  It was indeed a treat to listen to Bhavik Raja, who spoke at a meeting of the Movement for Secular Democracy the other day in Ahmedabad. Speaking in chaste Gujarati, Raja recalled his childhood days in Mobi when he and his friends would often go to the town's Jhulto Pul (Hanging Bridge) in free time. I listened to him online. The bridge, which should have been given a heritage status, was handed over to the owners of a watch-making tycoon for repair. The repair was carried out so shoddily that it broke down in less than a week after it was opened for general public, leading to the death of more than 140 persons, many of them children. Raja, who formed a group of three-person activists' team on a fact-finding mission to Mobi, said, what isn't taken note of is how tens of youth, belonging to the local Muslim fishing community, jumped into the river and saved many, many lives. It's a marshy river, and to navigate in there is an extremely difficult exercise.

Zakir Naik tumult, Catholic Church power abuse: will Anwar Ibrahim save Malaysia?

Anwar Ibrahim By Jay Ihsan*  Anwar Ibrahim, a hardcore reformist who took a punch to his eye in 1998 from then inspector-general of police, Rahim Noor, has finally been given the mandate by Malaysians to serve as the nation's 10th prime minister. Anwar knows too well the burden of staying true to both trust and faith the people have in him requires every once of commitment and dedication. The question is will he be apologetic for his transgressions enroute to "rebuilding" Malaysia? In his overzealousness to get the job done, Anwar, 75, needs to safeguard every bit of gumption to address prickling issues plaguing the safety of the nation especially those involving communal sensitivities. For one, dare Anwar get rid of terrorist hate preacher and fugitive Zakir Naik for inciting religious unrest in Malaysia? In November 2016, India’s counter-terrorism agency filed an official complaint against Naik, holding him responsible for promoting religious hatred and unlawful activi

Adequate attention not paid on changing human life to realize climate change aim

By Bharat Dogra  Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our times. It has to be checked as a matter of highest priority. Despite this adequate attention has not been given to how human life must change to realize this objective. We know that fossil fuels must be phased out and replaced by renewable energy. But is renewable energy capable of meeting the present day massive energy requirements, along with the increase taking place? Even if it is, what are the implications if renewable energy has to be scaled up to this level, and at such gigantic level won’t renewable energy also have very adverse consequences, although of a different kind? Such questions make the situation more complicated, but these have to be faced. So let us try to approach the issue in a somewhat different way. Since the daily consumption of various goods and utilities involves the use of fossil fuels in various ways, if all excessive, wasteful and harmful consumption can be given up, this will also lead

Ukraine war revitalizes silent competition between China and Russia in Central Asia

By John P. Ruehl  At the recent Commonwealth for Independent States (CIS) summit held on October 14 in Astana, Kazakhstan, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon expressed previously inconceivable remarks. His public admonishment of Russian President Vladimir Putin to treat Central Asian states with more respect showed the growing confidence of Central Asian leaders amid Russia’s embroilment in Ukraine and China’s expanding regional influence. After coming under Russian imperial rule in the 18th and 19th centuries , five Central Asian states—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan— emerged independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. While these countries remained heavily dependent on Russia for security, economic, and diplomatic support, China saw an opportunity in their vast resources and potential to facilitate trade across Eurasia. Chinese-backed development and commerce increased after the Soviet collapse and expanded further after the launch of China’s Belt an

Much like earlier meetings, COP 27 fails to find real solution to overcome climate crisis

By NS Venkataraman* COP 27 in Egypt was organized with much fanfare and expectations, similar to COP 26 at Glasgow that was organised in 2021. While nothing significant was achieved in combating the climate crisis subsequent to the Glasgow Meet, one thought that COP 27 would be more productive and would find some real solutions to overcome the climate crisis. Leaders and representatives from most of the countries participated in the COP 27 including the President of USA, Prime Minister of UK and so many others. Cosmetic speeches were made by the leaders, committing themselves to save the world from global warming and noxious emissions. Finally, resolutions would be adopted after representatives of all countries put their heads together . With no tangible agreement about the fundamental issues, the resolutions would inevitably end up as face saving documents. During COP 27, the UAE President clearly said that the UAE would not reduce production of crude oil and natural gas. In t

Bangladesh to import diesel from India: Win-win situation amidst economic turmoil?

Kamal Uddin Mazumder*  Bangladesh and India had been sharing friendly and warm relations since 1971. Both of the countries have been kith and kin through crisis moments. Bangladesh has witnessed India’s support from the liberation war to the Covid-19 pandemic. As now the world is facing the repercussions of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war through the economic crisis and the energy crisis, India is still with Bangladesh through a cooperative framework. The government of Bangladesh had decided to cut down its fuel consumption to keep up with the global energy crisis. It was necessary to import fuel at the cheapest possible rate to mitigate the crisis. Some talks had been initiated with countries like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Brunei but India came forward first. The geographical proximity and the longest shared border had ushered multidimensional ways of cooperation and collaboration in many areas. The import of diesel from India through the pipeline is one of the prime example

Maldives migrants' death: Govt bodies haven't done enough for workers' safety, security

By Kirity Roy*  We have been notified by the media that a hazardous fire, which erupted in a cramped neighborhood of Maldivian capital Male, has killed 10 migrant workers including 9 Indians. We are much aggrieved by this incident, and sending our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims. Many are missing. Almost half the population in the Maldivian capital constitutes of migrant workers, and out of them many are Indians. During the COVID-19 pandemic it was reported by many media outlets that due to the cramped and unsuitable living conditions, the disease spread more rapidly among the foreign workers than anywhere else in the country. This brought the light upon the serious housing problem for the migrant workers in the country. The current incident shows that the Government bodies have not done enough to ensure safety and security for the workers. While the United Nations have established the rights of the Migrant workers through the International Convention on the Prot