Concerned over “exploitation" of Jharkhand migrant workers in various parts of the country, especially in difficult terrains, Chief Minister Hemant Soren has voiced the need to put in place a robust mechanism to check such practices and said he would hold necessary discussions with his counterparts from other states. Soren also claimed that several central government agencies have failed to protect the rights of the workers after hiring them for development projects, while underlining that a “nexus between recruiting bodies and contractors" makes such unfair treatment possible.
“It pains me to see their plight…The workers are denied their legitimate dues even when organisations such as NTPC and BRO engage them through contractors or middlemen.Policies to protect their rights do exist, but they are usually not implemented," Soren told PTI.
The CM further stated that he had been raising the issue on different platforms but to avail. “Once we tide over the COVID-19 crisis, I will personally hold meetings with chief ministers and administrators of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh among other states and UTs and pitch for a robust mechanism to check workers’ exploitation," Soren said.
He lamented that the state had to use its own resources during catastrophes to evacuate workers or in some cases bring their mortal remains home, having received no help from the stakeholders. Citing examples, the CM said 15 Jharkhand migrant workers engaged by Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, near India-China boundary, had lost their lives in an avalanche in April.
Similarly, several workers were killed in February when a devastating flash flood demolished a 13.2 MW hydel project and caused extensive damage to another NTPC venture in along Dhauliganga in Uttarakhand, he said. “We have lost workers in cloud burst in Jammu & Kashmir… in other natural disasters. Despite flagging such instances, policies to protect the migrant labourers are not being implemented," the CM maintained.
Soren further said that his government, notwithstanding its unpleasant experiences in the past, had given its approval to BRO to employ workers, keeping national interest in view amid the India-China face-off in Ladakh. “Hundreds of migrant workers are made to live in pathetic condition in the hilly and difficult terrains, devoid of proper amenities and wages. They are reluctant to take up similar jobs on their return to the state. Jharkhand, on its part, is augmenting the labour management system by ensuring registration for all workers, and efforts are being made for their gainful employment," he said.
The CM pointed out that his government has launched the Mukhyamantri Didi Kitchen Yojana, which fed four crore people during the lockdown last year. “We made sure that the first special train that was available ferried as many as 1,200 workers from Telangana to Hatia in Ranchi. Migrant workers stuck in Leh were brought to Delhi, from where they boarded another flight to Jharkhand after two months of anxiety and uncertainty," he noted.
Soren was the first chief minister in the country to airlift 60 migrant workers stuck in Ladakh in May last year. The Supreme Court had on May 24 said the process of registration of migrant workers is “very slow" and it must be expedited so that benefit of various schemes can be extended to them amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The apex court had also observed that it was “not happy" with the efforts of the Centre while hearing an application filed by three activists who had sought directions to the Union government and states to ensure food security, cash transfers, transport facilities and other welfare measures for migrant workers facing distress due to the pandemic-induced curbs.