In the epoch of COVID-19, the situation of migrant workers and also the resident workers are hard and may get harder if fruitful steps are not taken. The too little too late efforts by the state and central governments have called for city governments to intervene to improve the plight of millions of stranded migrants who are walking to their native places with their children and luggage. To discuss this issue of Migrant Labour Crisis, Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies (CHURS), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi in association with Department of Social Work, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu conducted a webinar on Re-thinking City Governance Amid COVID-19, with special reference to the Migrant Labour crisis on June 19, 2020.
Chairperson Prof. Shipra Maitra, Delhi Chair Professor, Institute of Human Development has made some noticeable points such as the need for resources, finances and capacity building of municipalities to work for workers. She elaborated that role of the municipality in the pandemic is very crucial and with fewer resources available they can still have more effective results but they have to work for every needy out there who is searching for food and livelihood opportunities. She made a point of mid-day meal should be given to all who are needy with the help of supply agencies in the cities and around.
Dr Soumyadip Chattopadhyay, Senior Fellow, Impact and Policy Research Institute and Associate Professor, Viswa Bharti University, West Bengal highlighted that even after 25 years of 74th Constitutional Amendment Act which provides recognition city governments by a revolution of power and function, is not being followed by many states in India. The 12th Schedule of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act mandates 18 principles to be followed by the city government. But not a single city government has control over all 18 functions. Ambiguities in defining the roles, relationships and hierarchy of SPVs with the urban local bodies have resulted in poor deliveries.
He highlighted that urban local bodies are trapped in a vicious circle where a paucity of resources leads to poor service delivery and thus, poor revenue generation. It is important to identify the functions of municipalities and the weak financial health of city governments. He opined that empowering city government is not a choice but a necessity in the current situation of the pandemic. Professor proposed 3-Fs-Functions, Forms and Functionaries for the effective administration of city governments.
Ms Bharathy Jayaprakash, Chief Financial Controller of Esyasoft Technologies Private Limited stated that transparency and accountability issues prevail. She proposed to harness technology (through Whatsapp) to disseminate information media among the migrant workers. She proposed the need for a local TV channel should cover news at the local level. She also focused on resident workers along with migrant workers. She praised Bangalore for active citizen participation in the times of pandemic. She proposed that psychological counselling can do wonders in these uncertain times.
The government failed to recognize the transportation needs of migrants in the lockdown.
Mr Raj Cherubal, CEO of Chennai Smart City Limited (CSCL) has raised the importance of decentralized city government institutions for getting the higher output of the policies provided by State and Centre. City governments are dependent upon state government for financial support, i.e., decentralization has stopped at the state level. He exemplifies the city of London where private agencies (SPVs in case of India) work under the city governments not parallelly. He pointed out that the master plan has to be laid out defining each and every element clearly. He asked for building a capacity for cities along with public participation to focus on more on “serious projects” instead of “silly projects”.
Prof. Irudaya Rajan, Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram said that the government is failed to recognise the needs of migrants and also pointed out that while migrants are coming back to their homes. They are stigmatised by people living around and that is a failure of government as an institution who has the responsibility of migrant workers. He made the point while talking about migrants that migration is the birthright of every citizen and they are more worried about life and livelihood and not of death. He proposed an idea of giving smart migration card to every worker so it would be easy for the government to count and for making steps towards helping them.
Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, Impact and Policy Research Institute asked for the elaborative approach of civil society perspective and also asked to follow the footsteps of Chennai and Bangalore towards fighting COVID-19.
Prof. Mangaleswaran, Professor and Head Department of Social Work gave the concluding remarks of the session and pointed out some suggestions to follow on as citizens and as a policymaker for the bureaucrats.
Vote of Thanks was given by Dr N. Rajavel, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, and top panellists and renewed attendees for being present there and giving their remarkable suggestions and solutions to deal with migrant workers problems.