Sympathising with migrant workers who endured days of hardship to return home amid the lockdown, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi said he has urged the Centre to replace the four-decade-old interstate law with a new one to ensure their social security.
The senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader also said that the troubles of the hapless workers grew manifold, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, as their employers did not implement the provisions of the existing Inter State Migrant Labour Act, 1979.
The Act, moreover, covers only labourers hired by registered contractors, leaving out a vast majority recruited through agents, the deputy chief minister said.
The legislation was enacted to ensure decent living conditions, payment of railway fare and medical expenses, if and when needed, he said.
Besides, a labour inspector might visit work places in other states to see if the lawful facilities were being extended to the migrant workers, the BJP leader said.
In addition, the Act entails that migrants should be covered under the Employees Provident Fund, Employees' State Insurance Corporation and other welfare schemes, he stated.
Modi mooted the idea of giving unique identity number to every migrant labourer for compilation of a national database of such workers to provide them benefits of all social security schemes on the lines of 'one nation, one ration card'.
"If these provisions were applied, lakhs of migrant workers would have benefited in times of crisis, like the one happening due to the coronavirus outbreak," Modi told PTI.
Nearly 30 lakh migrants have returned to Bihar since the imposition of the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Taking lessons from the episode, which had left many migrants in distress, there was a need to frame a new law, which would shield the workforce from such agony, he said.
The deputy CM said he has requested the Centre to this effect, and the state Labour department has also taken up the issue with the Union government, stressing the need to repeal the 1979 Act and replace it with a new all-encompassing law.
Of the 30 lakh labourers that returned to Bihar, many came by Shramik Special trains, some travelled in buses, while a few unfortunate ones had to ride bicycles for days or walk back home, he said.
Rajesh Kumar, the chief public relations officer of Hajipur-based East Central Railway zone, said approximately 19,92,300 passengers have returned home in Bihar in around 1,089 Shramik Special trains from different states.
Giving details, he said 229 Shramik trains reached Bihar from Gujarat, 168 from Maharashtra, 143 from Punjab and 100 from Delhi.
Shramik special trains have brought workers to Bihar from 21 states, including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana, Puducherry and Goa among others.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has promised to find the returnees work at home so that they are not forced to migrate outside in 'majboori' (compulsion).
He has instructed various departments to create job opportunities under MGNREGA, Jal Jeevan Hariyali Abhiyan (environment projection schemes) and construction projects.
Modi said the government was also contacting the employers of migrant labourers in other states, requesting them to consider the option of opening a new unit in Bihar, where the existing workforce could be accommodated.
According to reports, many migrant workers were moving back to their places of work, with their employers luring them with incentives.
The ECR CPRO said so far three outbound trains have taken people to other states from Bihar.
The first one was from Khagaria to Hyderabad in the first week of May, carrying 222 workers.
Another train travelled to Raipur in Chhattisgarh from Darbhanga, and a third one from Patna to Sangli in Maharashtra, Kumar said.
Media reports have also highlighted that migrant labourers were travelling back to workplaces in Punjab in luxury buses sent for by their employers, promising higher wages.