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Insights into Editorial: Helping Hand for the Stranded migrant workers

Stranded_Migrant_Workers

Context:

The Centre asked state governments to arrange food and shelter for migrant workers who are facing difficulties due to the 21-day lockdown announced to check the spread of coronavirus.

Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs said students, who are in hostels, should continue to stay there for their own safety.

Centre asked the state governments to arrange food and shelter for the migrant workers. Governments are sensitising everyone that wherever they are, they should remain there. Students should continue to remain in hostels.

The idea that we’re fighting just one virus, and all will be fine once we’re on top of it – is dangerous. Sure, we need to fight COVID-19 desperately – this could be the worst pandemic ever since 1918 and the misnamed ‘Spanish Flu.’

Irreversible systemic shock: COVID-19 pandemic:

In a world where disruptions had become the new normal, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an irreversible systemic shock, creating new geo-political fault-lines and opportunities.

There are no winners in tragedies but stories of survival, hope and empathy that are retold and remembered in the aftermath.

Even as we struggle to fortify responses to the unprecedented crises that the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed globally, attempts are being made to reframe and deflect attention as to the causes and effects of this global pandemic.

Here’s the tragedy:

  1. India lost between 16-21 million lives to that between 1918-21. In fact, the 1921 Census remains the only one ever to record a net reduction in the rural population.
  2. We have the largest population that is least equipped to cope with a crisis like COVID-19.
  3. There will be COVIDS by other names in coming years. Since the late ’90s we have seen SARS and MERS (both also from coronaviruses) and other global-spread diseases.
  4. In India in 1994, we had the plague in Surat. All signals of what was to come, of the kind of world we’d built and entered.
  5. With the mid-1990s came the globalisation of communicable diseases. But instead of building universal health systems to meet this deadly challenge, many nations further privatised their health sectors.
  6. In India, it was always private dominance. We have one of the lowest health expenditures – barely 1.2 per cent (as share of GDP) – in the world.
  7. From the 1990s, the public health system, never terribly strong, was further weakened by deliberate policy-driven measures.
  8. The present government is inviting private management takeover of even district-level hospitals.
  9. Health expenditures across India today are possibly the fastest growing component of rural family debt.
  10. In June 2018, the Public Health Foundation of India, analysing diverse data sets on health, concluded that 55 million people had been pushed into poverty in the single year of 2011-12, because of having to fund their own health issues – it also said 38 million of these had fallen below the poverty line due to spending on medicines alone.

Accepting as inspirational, some of the measures announced by the Kerala government:

  1. The very first thing that needs doing: preparing for emergency distribution of our close to 60 million tons of ‘surplus’ food grain stocks.
  2. And reaching out at once to the millions of migrant workers and other poor devastated by this crisis.
  3. Declare all presently shut community spaces (schools, colleges, community halls and buildings) to be shelters for stranded migrants and the homeless.
  4. The second – equally important – is to get all farmers to grow food crops in the kharif season.
  5. If the present trend persists, a terrible food situation looms. They will not be able to sell cash crops they harvest this season. Going in for more cash crops could prove fatal.
  6. A vaccine/cure for the coronavirus seems many months away. Meanwhile food stocks will dwindle.
  7. Governments must help, pick up and buy big time, the produce of farmers. Many have been unable to complete the rabi harvest – social distancing and lockdowns being in force. Those who have, can’t transport or sell it anywhere.
  8. Even for food crop production in the kharif, farmers will need an ecosystem of inputs, support services and marketing assistance.
  9. The government must be prepared to nationalise private medical facilities across the country.
  10. Advising hospitals to have a ‘corona corner’ , so to speak within themselves, simply won’t cut it.
    1. Spain last week nationalised all its hospitals and healthcare providers recognising that a profit-driven system can’t meet this crisis.
  11. Sanitation workers – safai karamcharis – must be immediately regularised as fulltime employees of the governments / municipalities employing them, with Rs. 5,000 a month added to their existing salaries, and with full medical benefits they have always been denied.
  12. And supplied protective gear that they’ve never been given. We spent three decades further devastating millions of already vulnerable sanitation workers, shutting them out of public service, outsourcing their jobs to private entities – who then re-employed the same workers on contract, at lower wages and with no benefits.
  13. Declare and rush free rations for three months to the poor.
  14. Immediately regularise ASHA, anganwadi and mid-day meal workers – already on the frontlines of the battle – as government employees. The health and lives of India’s children are in their hands.
  15. They too must be made full employees, provided proper wages, given protective gear.
  16. Give MGNREGA wages daily to farmers and labourers till the crisis tides over. Urban daily wagers to get Rs. 6,000 a month in the same period.

We need to get down to these measures right now. The government’s ‘package’ is a curious blend of callousness and cluelessness.

It’s not just one virus we’re fighting – pandemics are also a ‘package.’  Of which economic distress can be a self-inflicted or self-aggravated part – driving us from calamity to catastrophe.

If the virus trend persists for the next two weeks, urging farmers to grow food crops for the kharif season becomes the single most important thing to do.

A junction from where we decide which way to go. A moment to renew and pursue debates on Inequality and Health Justice.

Conclusion:

The world is facing this crisis and it is our duty, to contribute in whatever ways possible.

Currently, we are facing a situation in our city, where thousands are rendered homeless with no access to basic necessities.

It is our social responsibility and moral duty to provide a helping hand. We have provided our halls as temporary shelter and basic requirements while we battle COVID-19. State and District governments have to be coordinated with the local authorities to use our halls for this purpose.