Rising above partisan politics to allow free movement of labour is the need of hour

At  a time when India is lobbying with global powers to ease movement of technology professionals, back home, chief ministers of some states are out to discourage workers from other states. As the Constitution of India allows citizens to live and pursue livelihood in any part of the country, these chief ministers has no business to target workers from other states in an attempt to please their own electorate.

Blaming workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for unemployment in Madhya Pradesh  is untenable and needs to be condemned by all stakeholders. Similarly, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath’s announcement of providing fiscal incentives to companies employing local people is again misdirected policy option of his government.

If goods and services tax (GST) has manifested ‘one nation, one tax’ theology, Kamal Nath’s move immediately after taking reins of the state goes against this very spirit. Along with GST, the central government should explore the possibility of unifying the country’s labour market. A unified labour market should be achieved in next few years, irrespective of party in power at the Centre or the states.

Interestingly, when politicians love to get elected to the Rajya Sabha and even the Lok Sabha from other states – a practice started by Congress and perfected by Bharatiya Janata Party – how do they justify restrictions on movement of workers or labour in search of livelihood within the boundaries of the country?

Similarly, no objection is raised when people join government jobs in other states, get admitted to universities and other educational institutions. It’s only when members of the lower strata of the society flock to other states in search of livelihood that the hell broke loose and politicians rush to that protect their vote banks. In fact, large and prosperous states should try and make way for workers from Jammu & Kashmir or northeastern region where work opportunities are limited.

As recommended by Niti Aayog in its ‘New India @ 75’ document, the Centre should move quickly to formulate a national policy for workers. Migration of labour is not a crime. And, the national policy should address the labour migration issues and facilitate free flow of workers.

In October, when workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were targeted in northern Gujarat, thousands moved out impacting work at factories and businesses in that state. In Sanand alone, 4000 labourers from UP, Bihar and MP had to flee to protect their lives. For years, Mumbai have had witnessed local and non-local sentiment amongst workers, mostly fanned by regional parties like Shiv Sena and Maharastra Navnirman Sena. Instead of raising barriers or spreading hatred for their petty political gains, leaders should acknowledge contribution of migrant workers in the economic growth of their states.

Prime minister Narendra Modi should take the lead and convene a meeting of chief ministers to evolve a national consensus against restrictions on the movement of both industrial and agricultural labourers.

Like borderless trade and investments, as are being stressed by leaders of developing countries, there should be minimal or no restrictions on movement of labour within the country. Only recently, finance minister Arun Jaitley floated the idea of setting up an empowered group of state finance ministers to evolve a common policy framework for health and tourism sectors. Both these sectors offer a huge work opportunity. But, if states begin imposing restrictions on workers such reform ideas may not work. Rising above the partisan politics is the need of hour.