Government at Doorstep, People at Outdoors !
In a tragic incident, 23 migrant workers from West Bengal lost their lives in a bridge collapse in Mizoram on 23 August 2023. All these workers from Malda district were engaged in constructing a bridge at Sairang area, near Aizawl, when it collapsed. Within few days, on 27 August, there was a violent explosion in a firecracker factory in Duttapukur, which was operating illegally for years together in a densely populated locality enjoying total impunity from political leaders and local administration of the North 24 Parganas. Nine workers, including few women, died on the spot. Six of the deceased were migrant workers from Murshidabad district and others were local people.
Recently, an entire family of four migrant workers from Sankosh Tea Garden of Kumargram, Alipurduwar district, lost their lives in an accident in Bengaluru. This family, like many others, migrated to other states not for more decent jobs but for higher wages as wages in tea gardens are abysmally low. They worked in a poultry farm at Bengaluru.
Even the tragic train accidents at Balasore a few months ago had exposed the plight and predicament of migrant workers of West Bengal with maximum number of deaths of migrants from Sunderbans, South 24 Parganas.
The list is endless.
Recently, Mamata Government launched a programme 'Duare Sarkar' (Government at Your Doorstep). Registration of migrant workers was one of its primary objectives. Within a short span, the Secretary of Home Department informed that 12.15 lakh migrant workers had registered. He stated that the registration process would continue till the end of September.
The WB Government announced a slew of measures, including financial assistance, a call centre and offices to assist around an estimated 38 lakh people (unofficial estimate) working in other states. The Govt has constituted West Bengal Migrant Workers' Welfare Board. A portal has been launched for the registration of migrant workers.
Under the welfare scheme, a migrant worker who has met with an accident and become physically challenged will get cash assistance from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1 lakh. In case of natural death, his/her family will receive a compensation of Rs. 50,000 and in case of death due to accidents the compensation will be 2 lakh rupees and if the family intends to bring the mortal remains to their native, they will get Rs 25,000 towards transportation cost, and in case the last rites are performed at the place of their work, Rs. 3,000 will be provided to the relatives. In reality, the welfare board is an euphemism, and benefits will be provided only after accidental death or injury, and the entire concept of welfarism has been reduced to compensation for tragic accidents and not a lifetime and lifelong benefit!
During the Duare Sarkar programme, the state government offered compensation to the wife of a deceased migrant worker. She promptly refused and told the government official, "We don't need money, we want employment.” She echoed the aspiration of countless migrant workers of West Bengal.
A report in Telegraph newspaper has quoted a senior government official in Kolkata put the total figure of migrant workers from Bengal at around 38 lakhs. Another five lakh are working abroad, mainly in Gulf countries.
The last census report of 2011 had mentioned 5.8 lakh migrant workers from Bengal left the state in search of better fortune. The number has leaped with every passing year and has reached an unimaginable proportion. Various reports have revealed that people from not only poorer districts but even economically better districts are migrating to other states in huge numbers. Employment crisis is not the sole reason for this. Abysmally low wages are forcing rural populations to migrate in search of the lowest level of unorganised jobs in other states.
Handbook of Statistics on Indian States, 2020-21, an RBI publication, has revealed that the daily wage of rural workers in Bengal is below national average and is the worst among major states in the country. Stalling 100 days of work guaranteed under MGNREGA in Bengal is not the only reason for rural distress. Even when Bengal was a top performer in MGNREGA, people were reeling under acute poverty in rural Bengal, according to NABARD report - Farmers' Welfare : An Analysis Across States Of India. Average monthly income of farmers' families in Bengal is Rs. 7,573. This places Bengal among the states with lower average income from farming. Only six other states, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Tripura and UP have a lower average income in the category. Women workers from tea plantation areas are opting to migrate to other states/regions such as Nagpur, Rajasthan and Surat in search of contractual family work.
The Chief Minister of Bengal went on a 12-day tour to Spain and UAE to woo industrialists for investment in the state. During her meeting with the Industrial houses at Barcelona, Mamata underscored three advantages of Bengal that are favourable for international capital. Among the top two, one is highly skilled, knowledgeable and cheap workforce and the second is complete prohibition of strike. She stated that Deocha Pachami will be the biggest coal mine in Asia, and a source of uninterrupted cheap power supply for the industry. The CM of the state, thus, assured the international capital of her government's position of keeping the wages at low level, and was unashamedly appeasing the corporates. When the entire world is moving towards reducing carbon emission from fossil fuel, Mamata is brazenly making such a proposal.
Mamata’s statement of “the 'advantage' of cheap workforce” has further opened up all the doors for unmitigated migration of young rural workforce to other states and is the very source of huge suffering that has befallen upon the rural Bengal.