COVID-19 has brought the entire world to a standstill with this catastrophe hit on all the sectors in a brutal manner, which has resulted in collapsing economies and people compromising with their financial situation and employment. Albeit the lockdown has healed the Planet’s environment in phenomenal ways, but it has hit the businesses fatally. The backbone of every industry – Migrant labourers have to suffer the worst due to this situation. The plight of migrant workers beyond count, on a journey from major cities of India back to their homelands, walking hundreds of kilometres in the adverse summers with meager basic supplies, can be witnessed by the world on television channels and other social media platforms.
Chhattisgarh’s Labour Department has since the beginning of the lockdown, reached out directly to nearly 3 Lakh needy people who contacted the department including the migrant workers stranded in the state and natives who are stranded elsewhere in the country. The department has not only helped the labourers but also has been earnestly active through its helpline telephone services and other means and social media platforms like Twitter etc. to reach out to anyone in need of aid.
The Chhattisgarh Labour Department’s arrangements for a sustainable alternative to make the labourers capable and self-reliant once again has already begun by preparing employment opportunities to the workers who are now left with no means to subsist in a decent manner assuring proper necessities to their families. Sonmoni Borah, an IAS of batch 1999 who is the secretary (Labour) and Secretary to the Governor and also the Nodal Officer said, “We come across many sensitive cases via calls, WhatsApp messages, Twitter, helpline numbers on a daily basis. These cases mostly need immediate action. It has now become a routine to keep in constant touch with officials from other states, active NGOs, volunteers and be active on every channel to heed to the complaints, attend several meetings and Video Calls and also work with the various collectors on new updates”.
The Department responded to the complaints immediately during the lockdown period and Rs 37 crore worth pending payments cleared for labourers. Due to the unprecedented lockdown that was ordered in India, many employers and factories had not paid the wages to their workers. Secretary of the Labour Department, Sonmoni Borah took it upon himself to ensure that the legitimate wages be paid to the labourers in this time of need and further ensured that, owing to the lockdown, none of their employment is seized by their employers. The Department reached out to the contractors, employers and factory managements and payment worth Rs 37 crore was cleared for 31,000 labourers giving them a big relief amid the pandemic.
Remarkable actions taken care by Borah himself- Sukhmati’s battle against Jaundice facilitated in Gurugram –
IAS Sonmoni Borah was informed of 24 workers from Chhattisgarh who were stranded at Gurugram and among of which was a woman – Sukhmati who was hit by jaundice. As if the ordeal was not enough, the labourers had no ration and groceries left to satisfy their hunger.
IAS Borah told that in this crucial matter Labour department immediately arranged for ration and got it delivered to the workers in Gurugram. “A health team was then sent to, in aid of Sukhmati. Later we came to know that she was enduring a last stage cancer and she was some time later brought to her home in Chhattisgarh in an ambulance for further proper caretaking and has also been given financial assistance for her better treatment,” he informed, however she succumbed to cancer later but she breathed her last with her family and friends in her village! ” said Borah. Adding to it, he further told that Chhattisgarh’s Labour Department has been doing its best to help those in need at the earliest.
Noori was rushed to her handicapped husband at home after her sister’s demise
Another case was of Noori, who felt her world had ended after she received the news of her sister’s demise, she was brought back to home in a private vehicle. IAS Borah via Twitter when got to learn that Noori was stuck at a Rain Basera in Bilaspur for over a month while her handicapped husband and young daughter were helpless back in home after her sister died amid the lockdown. Noori was ferried back home after a health check-up. She was also provided with food and other essentials to take along. Talking about this case, Borah said, “Noori’s story had broken all our hearts. We followed the government orders and ensured that no delay pursuant to paperwork and other formalities be caused to Noori to reach home. Many such cases are coming up and our team is working its best to take upon immediate action and help out people at the earliest”.
Paving a safe journey for the Migrants
Secretary Sonmoni Borah says that it is both our priority and responsibility to bring all the Chhattisgarh’s workers back to the state safely. By 26 May 2020, 2 lakh 20 thousand laborers of the state were brought back. 66,000 workers were brought back safely in over 55 Special Shramik trains. Not only this, it was also ensured that arrangements be made for workers of other states to make them reach their destination safely. In this lot, 28,450 workers were sent to their state safely. We are also using every possible medium to send the workers to their destination. We have decided to ensure the return of workers and students belonging to Tripura back to their state as well.
Proper Employment arrangements made for the workers
The labour department has also started preparing to give employment to the workers who have come back to Chhattisgarh. Pertaining to this, by the means of skill mapping, various industries are now providing employment to migrants. In this case, labor secretary Sonmoni Borah is monitoring the entire system and ensuring that the rights of workers are not violated. Talking about the labor reforms taking place in various states in the country, Borah says that there will be no such reform making the labourers to work for long hours, and it shall also ensure that workers can get regular work through employment cards and in accordance with their respective skills.
MGNREGA on aid of the needy
Amid the nationwide lockdown, about 19 lakh people in Chhattisgarh are employed under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). This figure comes out to be about 24% of the total workers employed under MGNREGA throughout India. Only a tiny percent of the population of India are those who will face no shortage of food and necessities even if they do not go to work for a year, but MGNREGA employs those who have to work on a hand to mouth basis to earn food for their sustenance.
Borah told, “We strive to get more and more workers to the work, so that they can financially be strong and do not have to wander for their basic necessities”.
He also states that “Lockdown 1.0 had caused severe panic among the workers leading them to get out on foot and walk for hundreds of kilometers across the country to go back to their homes. We took immediate action and started counseling and making them aware. We assured all possible help to them and launched helpline numbers to make sure no one in our reach goes hungry. A rapid action team has also been formed to patrol across the state with dry ration and cooked food in vehicles to help people as and when required”.
Chhattisgarh Labour Department has indeed set an example in this time of crisis. While the pandemic fatigue has taken its toll, people like Sonmoni Borah have come out as an inspiration for not only the young officers but also for all of us. Borah’s administrative expertise and humane face have proved that if there is a will then not even a pandemic can stop someone from doing welfare of the people.
At a time when the entire country is battling COVID-19, the corona warriors – be it policemen, health workers, journalists, government employees or social workers – all are at the forefront of war against this pandemic. They are not only bravely facing the challenges by keeping their own lives at stake, but also are saving the lives of others.