NEWS
05/06/2020 4:52 PM IST | Updated 05/06/2020 5:36 PM IST

Modi Govt Quietly Releases 'Incomplete' Migrant Worker Data Following CIC Rap

The Chief Labour Commissioner’s office claims only about 26 lakh migrant workers are stranded but does not reveal any other significant details about them. May face another complaint for not revealing all details.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
A woman feeds water to her child while stranded migrant workers staged a protest outside Deputy Commissioners residence demanding their return to their homes in another state amid the lockdown, on June 3, 2020 in Amritsar, Punjab.

NEW DELHIData disclosed by the office of the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) states that a little more than 26 lakh migrant workers remain stranded across India and most of them are either in relief camps or at their workplaces.

It is unclear for what time period this data captures the numbers of stranded migrant workers. What’s clear, though, is that it was uploaded on June 2. But the data was uploaded without informing the right to information applicant who requested it or issuing a public statement, making it impossible to say anything more about other related details.

A closer look at the data suggests that this number is an understatement, incomplete and not provided in the appropriate format thereby concealing details, said activist Venkatesh Nayak whose Right To Information (RTI) application resulted in this disclosure.

Since the data has not been disclosed fully, the activist is planning to file another complaint against the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office so that full data is disclosed in public domain. 

“I am planning to ask for uploading scanned copies of information received from ground level through next complaint about inadequate compliance,” Nayak told HuffPost India. He also felt that this data in itself will not help migrant workers get any help from interested members of the civil society who may wish to provide help to those in need. 

Despite repeated attempts the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office could not be reached for comment. This report will be updated if a response is received.

WHY THE DATA MAY BE INCOMPLETE

Nayak’s assertions about incomplete data and concealment of full details may well be true. 

In a press conference in mid-May, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman estimated the number of migrant workers stranded across India after announcement of lockdown to be 8 crores. Further, the Narendra Modi government’s lawyers informed the Supreme Court in the last week of May that the administration sent 97 lakh migrant workers home between May 1 and 27. While 50 lakh migrant workers were sent home via shramik special trains, the remaining 41 lakh were sent through road transportation. 

Evidently, the numbers revealed by the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office, which is under the union labour and employment ministry and tasked with workers’ welfare, do not capture the full extent to which migrant workers continue to remain stranded across India. 

The format in which the numbers have been disclosed by the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office is also significant. The Central Information Commission (CIC), in an advisory, asked cumulative numbers to be shared district wise. Nayak, in his RTI application, sought more granular data with details about gender, occupation and sectors also included. Seemingly ignoring all these requirements, the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office has simply shared total numbers of migrant workers and the states they are stranded in even though it was in the process of collecting far more granular data about migrant workers as a ‘demi official’ letter written by the Chief Labour Commissioner Rajan Verma on April 8 shows.  

There is no indication of when this data was collected and whether it is reasonably complete.Venkatesh Nayak, RTI activist

Speaking with HuffPost India about this disclosure, Nayak said, “The CLC’s action of demonstrating some measure of compliance with the CIC’s advisory is to be welcomed. The State-wise data of stranded migrant workers based on in situ location being made public is a good start. However, there is no indication of when this data was collected and whether it is reasonably complete.”

The activist, who is presently the Programme Head of the Access to Information Programme at the non-profit Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), explained that the data ought to have sector-wise figures for blue-collared and white-collared migrant workers. 

He pointed out further inconsistencies in data disclosed by the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office and publicly available data. For instance, the CLC’s office claims there are 88,852 migrant workers stranded in Karnataka. However, official data available with the state government, and disclosed to the Karnataka High Court, shows that of the 11.6 lakh stranded people in the state, 9.1 lakh are migrant workers. 

“I am hoping that they will be more forthcoming with such information in the coming days,” said Nayak. 

“However, if this is all they have managed to collect after the D.O. was issued, it is indicative of the inadequacy of existing structures to channel adequate information to the CLC in real time,” he added. 

The D.O. Nayak referred to above is the demi-official letter written by Chief Labour Commissioner Rajan Verma on April 8, cited earlier in this report, to all regional heads seeking data about migrant workers stranded in various states and union territories across India. This data was to be collected and shared in the following categories: a) stranded in relief camps/shelters (district wise), b) employers whose labourers are in-situ at work place and c) localities where migrant workers are generally ‘clustered’. 

This letter is directly related with both the Central Information Commission’s advisory to the Chief Labour Commissioner, referred earlier in this piece, and disclosure of data about stranded migrant workers. 

The quiet manner in which the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office uploaded the ‘incomplete’ data on its website, without sharing it with the RTI applicant or issuing a public statement, indicates that it had chosen to follow the CIC’s advisory in a token manner.

It was in response to this letter that Nayak filed an RTI application requesting that this data be uploaded on the Chief Labour Commissioner’s website in a specific format so that civil society could work with the government to provide relief to migrant workers. 

But the CLC’s office refused to disclose information and Nayak filed a complaint with the central information commission requesting that this data be uploaded online. The CIC agreed with the right to information activist’s arguments and issued an advisory asking that maximum information be disclosed on the website within seven days and periodically updated as and when fresh information became available. It also asked that names of districts in which migrant workers are stranded be disclosed but that has not been done. 

WHY GREATER TRANSPARENCY IS CRUCIAL

These and other such details are important as they become useful for civil society organizations to work with the government to provide urgent aid and support where it is needed. 

In a recent interview with HuffPost India, Nayak explained that maximum data in the right format is essential to be made public because, “Publicly available data has the potential to galvanise civil society efforts to work with the authorities to devise solutions to the problems faced by migrant workers and also enable people to demand accountability for governmental actions and omissions while dealing with this issue.”

Instead, the quiet manner in which the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office uploaded the ‘incomplete’ data on its website, without sharing it with the RTI applicant or issuing a public statement, indicates that it had chosen to follow the CIC’s advisory in a token manner. 

According to Nayak, hours after the HuffPost India published a long and detailed interview with him on the morning of June 4, an official in the Central Information Commission informed him that the data had been uploaded on the website of the Chief Labour Commissioner the previous day. Being the RTI applicant, it would have been appropriate to inform him that the data had been disclosed, Nayak felt. 

WHAT THE INCOMPLETE DATA SHOWS

According to the data disclosed by the Chief Labour Commissioner’s office , the top three states where the highest number of migrant workers are stranded are Chhattisgarh (1085828), Kerala (286846) and Telangana (184006). 

The total number of stranded migrant workers is 26,17,218 and most of them (46%) are in localities where they are usually ‘clustered’. 43% are stranded within their workplaces and only a tiny minuscule 10% are staying in actual relief camps or shelter homes. 

It is unclear if this data is pertaining to migrant workers who are stranded at present or about those who were stranded in April. The Central Information Commission had asked for the latest data to be uploaded and updated periodically on the Chief Labour Commissioner’s website. With many questions about this data remaining unanswered, it appears the purpose for disclosure of this data remains unmet.