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Derek O’Brien addresses Academia & Students Pan India on Nat’l Webinar organized by St Aloysius College

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Derek O’Brien-the Leader of All India Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party, Rajya Sabha, for the FIRST time addresses Academia & Students Pan India on National Webinar organized by St Aloysius College, Mangaluru on the topic “Migrant Workers : A Long Walk Ahead”!

Mangaluru: The Department of Sociology, St Aloysius College (Autonomous), Mangalore, organized a National Webinar on the 12th of June 2020 with the theme “Migrant Workers: A Long Walk Ahead!” The speaker for the Webinar was Mr Derek O’Brien, Leader, All India Trinamool Congress Parliamentary Party, Rajya Sabha.
The Webinar started with the welcome address by Ms Joan Rita O’Brien (Assistant Professor and HOD, Department of Sociology), the Convener and Moderator of the National Webinar followed by the opening remarks made by Rev. Dr. Praveen Martis, SJ (Principal, St Aloysius College Autonomous, Mangalore). In his opening remarks Fr. Principal spoke about how the country had disappointed the migrant workers and they did not seem to exist when the decision of lockdown was being made.

Derek O’Brien who is one of Indian Parliament’s most recognisable faces and a leading and articulate voice of the opposition, with his speeches and writings on issues of national importance being discussed widely in the national and international media addressed the participants by starting with what actually happened in short-term in March when a 21-days lockdown was announced. He said that the first big problem was these workers were given just 4 hours notice without any planning. The solution back then could have been simply giving them some time to get back home. And one of the practical solutions would be through Indian Railways which as per numbers in real could transport 5-6 million people per day and in about 6 days they could have transported 30 million of them to their destinations. And going by this between 24th and 28th March these workers could have been sent back to their homes and then the lockdown could have been announced.

He said that India announced its first lockdown when there were 550 cases and then did the unlocking when the cases were about 3 lakhs. This could have been thought out. And the idea of trains occurred only in May. It was quite late by then.

O’Brien preferred calling the migrant workers as “guest workers” or “mehman”. He spoke about the role of state governments during this time. The centre wanted these guest workers to move and wanted their respective state governments to accept them and do the initial screening on entry, ensure home and hospital quarantine too. He admitted that a big blunder was made in the beginning by abandoning these workers. They were not only disappointed but devastated and more than 80 people died when they were packed into the trains back home.

He mentioned about the MPLAD which is given to every MP for his constituency which has been suspended for two years. And the suggestion was made to divert this money into the worker’s bank accounts as direct benefit was suggested. Amidst all the pain and apathy he said there was still something positive. We actually got to know a lot about these migrant workers who would otherwise lead a life of invisibility.

Mr O’Brien spoke about inter state and intra state migration and went on to recommend to the students and scholars a book “India Moving: History of Migration” by Chinmay Tumbe to understand migration in India. He said that there were three types of migrants: short-term migrants (migrate for 2-3 months), long-term migrants (basically the security guards, construction workers etc.) and the permanent migrants. These long-term migrants go back home during the monsoons. And we are left wondering when will these workers now come back? Certainly not before the Chatt puja in Bihar (somewhere in September)!

He presented a couple of facts stating that 1 in every 4 households in Azamgarh in UP have migrant workers. And Ganjam in Odisha has a similar story where practically members of every household have migrated to Surat. And all of these migrations do not happen through agents but 70% of them are through word of mouth. And the 3 baskets of migration are Mumbai, Delhi and Surat where rural to urban migration happens. A good amount of urban to urban migration also happens like from Pune to Bangalore and vice versa. In fact 30% of Kerala’s GDP is from outbound migrations.

The good thing in all this he said was it was time for the Parliament to relook into the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979. Also he suggested just like some states do a pre-departure training for migration abroad, a similar one could be done for inter-state migration too. He also addressed the issue of what the migrants would do when they return to their home states.

He gave the example of MNREGA in West Bengal where it has done a marvellous job and kept the state at No.1 position for the past 3 years. Although there are some issues with it but the MNREGA will definitely perform for these workers (the per day wages need to be raised though). He was very open about the fact that these quickie and dramatic announcements (just like the demonetization and the GST) did no good as there was no planning.

Derek O’Brien took questions from participants across the country: Odisha, Patna, Kashmir, UP, Bangalore, MP, Nagaland, West Bengal, Hyderabad etc. and closed the session by reminding the youth that “Nobody is perfect. We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We course correct. There is nothing wrong in that. But most importantly there has to be humility in everything you do. It doesn’t matter how big a politician you are.” His humble request was “Let’s not be cynical. If we want to change something, let’s be constructive.”

He mentioned it was the first time where he was interacting with the academia on such a platform and would like to do this more frequently with other universities.
The questions were raised to O’Brien through the Convener and Moderator of the programme. The National Webinar closed with the vote of thanks proposed by Dr Alwyn D’Sa (Controller of Examinations, St Aloysius College Autonomous, Mangaluru)

The National Webinar received an overwhelming response of 1,424 registrations from across the country and participants joined in through Zoom and youtube live streaming.

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