You can also read this in Hindi- प्रवासी श्रमिकों की नियुक्ति के लिए उत्तर प्रदेश सरकार की अनुमति क्यों गलत विचार
In a recent interaction with RSS affiliates Organiser and Panchajanya, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced setting up of a commission for migrant workers and said that states/entities who want to employ migrant workers back will have to seek permission from the state of Uttar Pradesh.
There is no doubt that in the echo chambers of right-leaning social media, the UP CM is one of the most popular leaders whose followers think he can do no wrong.
Therefore, the jubilation in reception of this announcement should occasion no surprise.
Those of us capable of a more nuanced view, however, need to articulate everything that is wrong with this announcement.
To start with, the legal tenability of the UP government on this is highly doubtful.
The only way the UP government would have any say in recruitment of workforce in another state would either be through restrictions on its own citizens, or by petitioning the central government.
Will the Centre be able to influence employer states into having separate rules for one state?
Failing that, the state will be forced to forbid its subjects from taking up employment in other states without the local government’s permission.
Is there a current law/statute that allows states to impose restrictions on individuals from negotiating job contracts with employers?
Tomorrow, if a representation of migrant workers goes to court claiming state government’s intervention is not acceptable to them, just how exactly does the UP-government plan to defend its position?
At an operational level, this is more likely to be an issue for private employers, since the states where those employers are located may simply ask them to hire from the local population instead.
Also, since the supply of migrant labour far outstrips demand, states with large-scale unemployment might see this as an opportunity to seek employment for workers from their state.
In such a case, the UP workers might be justified in feeling that political posturing is costing them work opportunities.
A couple of years ago, while responding to an article promoting a coalition of states from the South and the West to put pressure on North-centric policies, I had argued that any such grouping/protectionist activity is very easily susceptible to retaliatory action.
Within hours of the announcement by the UP CM, Maharashtra Navanirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray demanded counter-curbs on incoming migrants.
Admittedly, MNS is a marginal player in Maharashtra, but what makes the UP government so confident that no party in power in other states will not react similarly?
From restricting entry of migrants into select industries/work to imposing tariffs on goods/services, there are many ways in which other states can respond.
As an economically weak state grappling with law and order and infrastructure issues on one hand and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic on the other, these are the fights the Adityanath government would do well not to get into.
There is a moral side to this debate that cannot be ignored either.
Like legendary newsman Edward R Murrow said during his famous speech against the McCarthy’s blacklist: “We cannot defend liberties abroad while abandoning them at home”.
The same UP government that passed an ordinance scrapping laws protecting minimum wages and industrial safety regulations less than a month ago, cannot preach to other states on minimum employment standards.
In reality, the poor migrant labour are the only ones likely to bear the brunt of this.
We have enough past experience to know that every new rule, every new government check-post is, in reality, simply another rent-seeking opportunity for the wily babu class.
Adityanath’s personal credentials as a clean politician are certainly beyond reproach, but how exactly is he going to stop corrupt babus from collecting an exit-fees of sorts from migrants desperate to leave the state in search of greener pastures?
To alleviate the state’s economic woes, the state government needs to be cutting down on, not add to, red-tape.
The Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led MP government recently reduced the number of permissions to start business from 63 to 10.
That might be a good cue for the UP government to follow, instead of playing labour inspector to the rest of the country.
Personally, I have no doubt of the UP CM’s good intentions. Clearly, the plight of the migrants from his state has affected him deeply and he is keen to bring in a change.
When incoming workers from Delhi were given the inhumane treatment of dousing with industrial chemicals, he was the first one to call it as ‘abhadra’ while promising actions against those responsible.
However, in this instance, he is either following bad advice or has grossly misunderstood the complex supply-demand dynamics of India’s labour market.
A Migrant Commission in itself is a good idea if it focusses solely on creating job opportunities for returning labour, facilitates infrastructure for skill-building, and rehabilitation, and ultimately helps the state build a vibrant workforce.
In short, the Yogi Adityanath government and its migrant commission would do well to look within.
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