The April 14 protests by migrant workers in Mumbai and Surat have once again brought to the fore the extreme economic, physical and emotional distress that the extended lockdown has caused for millions stranded in various parts of the country.

A late March survey by the NGO Jan Sahas among more than 3,000 migrant construction workers found that most of those stranded en route would not be able to access the aid that the central and state governments had announced--around 14% of the respondents said they did not have ration cards, 12% said they could not access PDS rations from their current location, and 17% said they did not have bank accounts.

Despite announcements, 62% said they did not know anything about emergency welfare measures provided by the government, and 37% said they did not know how to access the existing schemes.

Further, 42% said they had no ration left even for the day, the survey conducted between March 27 and 29, 2020, found. As many as 92.5% said they had lost work ranging from one week to three weeks; 31% said they were under debt and would find it difficult to repay without a job.

Since the respondents all worked in construction, 94% said they did not have registration cards from the Board of Construction Workers (BOCW), making them ineligible for any BOCW-related benefits.

In all, of the 55 million labourers employed in the construction sector, more than 51 million would not be able to access any benefits, the survey estimated.

Here’s what the NGO suggested the government must do:

  • Increase the amount of assistance from Rs 333-500 per month to Rs 1,000-1,500 per month for the next 6 months.
  • Pay the pending MGNREGA wages worth Rs 1,830 crore, and since MGNREGA worksites are not functional, pay workers for the loss of work.
  • Collaborate with private and not-for-profit sectors to avail of existing services and infrastructure like helplines, delivery services and value chain consolidation instead of beginning new lines of operations.
  • Improve communication from state governments through collaboration with TV channels, radio stations, online digital platforms and newspapers, in local languages (as well as languages of major groups of migrant workers) to inform the public not only about safety measures but also bridge information gaps that lead to rumour mongering and fake news.
  • Income assistance must be assured for female migrant workers, with an intense focus on creating separate bank accounts for them.