His Twitter handle describes him as ‘crusader for Jharkhand’. Thanks to his unwavering support to Congress party as its chief social media advisor for Jharkhand in the run-up to polls. But, he never restrained himself within his brief. Exceeding his brief was, however, well-meaning and result oriented. Even though he played a crucial role in scripting the success story of Congress in Jharkhand, Mr Jha never wriggled out of his self-professed duty to help the poor, derelict, and distraught in Jharkhand. In an interview with Daily Hunt , Mr Jha feels the government has not been able to offer the much-needed succor to the lockdown-unnerved marginalized (most migrant labourers).
Q.How have you helped migrant labourers?
Ans : Jharkhand is perhaps one of the biggest contributors of migrant labour in the country. The government estimated that more than 8 lakh people from Jharkhand were working as migrant labourers in different parts of our country on daily wages. So when the lockdown happened it emerged that more than 15 lakh people from Jharkhand were stuck in different parts of our country. Most of them were in a real distress situation owing to sudden recall of their wages leaving them sans social security. These were people who don’t fall in the ambit of formal employment. No earnings meant no repatriation of money to their hometowns and dearth of basic necessities in the cities, where they were suddenly left with no roof owing to non-repayment of house rents. So when we came to know that a group of labourers have started walking from Delhi to reach Dhanbad, Jharkhand, we arranged a quarantine capacity of 500 people at the Loni – Ghaziabad Border. There was no sanity in traveling 1000 miles without food to Jharkhand. They resided in the overnight-constructed make-shift quarters from 25 March to 14 April till we made arrangements for them to go back to their native place. Needy people from different parts of the country started approaching me. Through our unorganized effort , we have managed to help around 16,000 such people with food, shelter and medicines during this period of Lockdown. Mostly, these strife-torn people were from Ghaziabad, Mumbai, Ahemadnagar and Surat. We had also organised a flight from Bombay to Ranchi on 26th May, 2020 for some of the stranded migrants after resumption of domestic flights in Lockdown 4.0.
Q: Don’t you fear for your health and your families?
Ans:. See, we always take the necessary precautions to keep ourselves safe. Be it social distancing, masks or hygeine. My support staff did take cues from people the world over who have unflinchingly supported Covid-impacted people in various ways. Since the time the pandemic has hit us, I have consistently believed there are more people affected by Cornona virus than infected by Corona virus. Yes, self care was always prioritized. Because, if we only got under, we would end up pouring cold water on our own efforts.
Q: How do you view govt policies in tackling migrant labour crisis?
Ans :Government of India did what any government should have done and congress also supported the government. It is a worldwide practice that lockdown is needed at least to delay the pandemic and save lives of our citizens. But I personally feel that government should have made requisite arrangements for the migrant workers to reach their home states. That was one aspect which was lacking in government’s efforts so far. The government could have done well by encapsulating their needs and travails in the lists of problems they set out to address. It is a time proven fact that panic kills more than the disease. The government should have worked towards nipping panic in the bud. I have constantly been in touch with Jharkhand CM for driving initiatives and programmes for employment generation of our migrants in the state itself. The idea is to maximize state – facilitated employment for them to minimize their flight from Jharkhand.
Q: What could the government have done well in time to avert the current situation?
Ans:First, there should have been a seamless and organised arrangement to take care of the people who set upon themselves to traverse miles in knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic-induced overnight unemployment. Second, the norms like social distancing and wearing of masks that went for a toss should have been adhered to through administrative guidance. Every migrant should have been given the opportunity and right to reach their respective homes. When opportunities in the host state dry up, it is migrant workers’ natural tendency to retreat homeward. It was government’s first line of duty to calm them followed by a safe and assured return to their destinations. It will now take a lot of time to re-establish same level of confidence in them again for migrating into cities. If these important and not-so-onerous procedures were followed the crisis would not have snowballed to what it has now manifested into.