The slugfest between Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra over the issue of migrants demonstrates what is wrong with our politicians and exposes their insensitivity towards the plight of the working class. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath set off ripples when he said that prior permission of his government would be mandatory if any State wants to hire workers from Uttar Pradesh. He also announced constitution of migration commission, which will be authorised to grant such permissions. This has evoked an equally preposterous retort from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena president Raj Thackeray who suggested that any migrant entering Maharashtra must take the permission of the State police. The warring politicians seem to be ignorant of the basic fact that all Indians are free to seek livelihood and settle down anywhere in the country and there are no restrictions, whatsoever, on the movement of people. It would be ridiculous if the States start imposing conditions and restrictions. The migrant crisis, which erupted as a fallout of the poorly-executed lockdown, has exposed the vulnerabilities of the States and lack of a coordinated approach to provide succour to the workers. It must be pointed out that the MNS had shot into the limelight in 2008 by organising a series of agitations targeting migrants from UP, Bihar and other States for several months, leading to tension and subsequent court cases lodged against Thackeray and others.
The permission clause proposed by Adityanath goes against the tenets of the Constitution as Article 19 gives the fundamental right to freedom to reside, settle and work in any part of India. In December last, the NDA government too told Parliament that every citizen has the right to migrate to any part of the country in the quest for better job opportunities and prospects. The principles of free migration are enshrined in Article 19(1). The Covid-19 outbreak has brought into sharp focus the problems of migrant workers with thousands of them walking from their place of work to home States as they ran out of resources and hope during the lockdown. The politics over migrant labourers is not new to the country. In fact, it was at the heart of Maharashtra politics, giving birth to Shiv Sena and its splinter MNS. Spewing venom at migrants constituted the core of their brand of politics for years. According to estimates, over a million migrant workers have left Maharashtra in the last two months, a majority of them from the prosperous industrial-commercial belt of Mumbai and Pune metropolitan regions. Apart from UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal have to face the challenge of handling the influx of workers returning to their homes.
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