In conversation with Amar Tandon and Harshdeep Singh Bedi on migrant crisis in India

Amar Tandon and Harshdeep Singh Bedi are 4th year law students at NLIU, Bhopal and have been in news for their work during the migrant crisis in India. They have featured on the All India Radio and NDTV prime time for their initiative of providing easy access to information for the stranded migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been interviewed by EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador Vivek Badkur who is currently pursuing law from NLIU Bhopal.

 

  1. Please introduce yourself for our readers, and also tell us about the Centre for Labour Laws at NLIU.

At the onset, we would like to thank SCC Online for covering our initiative. I am Amar Tandon, the Convenor of the Centre for Labour Laws (CLL). I have Harshdeep Singh Bedi with me, who is the Co-Convenor of the Centre. Both of us are 4th year students at National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal. Centre for Labour Laws was constituted under the aegis of our Vice-Chancellor, Prof. (Dr.) V. Vijayakumar, in the month of March, 2020. CLL aims at collective, collaborative and consistent effort to seek justice for the nation’s labour. Further, the Centre’s objectives include providing quality platform for research in the field of Labour Laws, organizing conclaves and conferences for exchange of ideas among stakeholders and spreading awareness about labour laws.

  1. You have recently launched a website of your Centre, please tell us more about it and how successful the initiative has been.

We recently launched our website www.mazdoormitra.info. The idea struck us after observing the unfortunate difficulties that migrant workers had to face due to the lockdown. In pursuance of the same, we acted swiftly and set-up a platform ‘mazdoormitra’ overnight on 10th May. The underlying vision was to put all the information that could be helpful to labourers, for instance the NGOs working for providing food and shelter, the helpline numbers of State Government and district level authorities, E-Pass Links on a single platform. Our members burned the midnight oil and collated all the information within a day. The initiative took off instantly and we started to receive phone calls from stranded labourers across the country.Our Chairperson, Asst. Prof. Mahendra Soni and Mr. Ankur Rajput, faculty of Cyber Law at NLIU, played a pivotal role in the entire execution of the idea.  We had circulated our team members’ contact numbers through social media platforms, print and digital media. We addressed the queries of labourers, helped them in getting food and shelter by coordinating with relevant NGOs, assisted them in getting E-Passes, co-ordinated with State authorities in their travel, etc. Since the inception of mazdoormitra.info, we have helped more than 500 labourers across the country. Our initiative got major coverage in ‘Hum Log’, a popular show on NDTV, hosted by Senior Journalist Ms. Naghma Sehar. It was a matter of great honour for us particularly because we were mentioned alongside Sonu Sood and Chef Vikas Khanna. We also received coverage in All India Radio – MP. Moreover, we got support of other NLUs in the form of them following our lead. For instance, CNLU Alumni created a similar platform as ours known as ‘Shramik Saarthi’, and they are doing a commendable job. It gives us immense pleasure that we could be torchbearers for such a noble initiative and inspire others to provide assistance to stranded migrant labourers in these testing times.

  1. Can you tell us what you see as the biggest challenges for addressing labour exploitation during the COVID pandemic? Also, make us aware of some of the challenges that people who you have got in touch, have encountered over the past few months?

The biggest challenge was the lack of any travel arrangements on the part of the States for workers to go from say city A to city B. This was a major concern that people put forth as they were getting in touch with us. Dealing with those queries was the most tedious part. In those cases, our team used to find alternate travel arrangements, the indirect ones. Further, sometimes details of the state travel arrangements weren’t available on the government websites. That made our task even more onerous.

  1. What do you think the role of the Government is in protecting workers?

We think that being Parents patriae, the government has the primary responsibility to protect all the citizens, including migrant workers. But in these unprecedented times, the government, citizens, educational institutions, students, NGOs and other organizations must work harmoniously against one enemy, i.e., COVID-19, since no one has the requisite capability to fight against it individually.

  1. What are some of the rights that migrant workers and employees at large must be conscious?

Answering this question generally is very difficult, since applicability of labour laws, which are the source of the rights of both employers and employees, differs on the basis of the industry, state, conditions of service, etc. However, one thing we would like to emphasise is the importance of awareness about legal entitlements of both employers and employees. Different academic centres, legal aid wings of the law universities with assistance of NALSA and SLSAs can work in this field.

  1. Some states in India had decided to suspend labour laws in the country to encourage ease of doing business, What is your opinion on it?

We believe that this is not the right time to give any opinion on the same. As the world is going through a havoc, India has encountered additional problem of migration of labourers. Giving re-employment to these labourers near their place of origin is the need of the hour. The recent flexibility or the suspension of the laws might help in the same. Nevertheless, one thing which is going unnoticed is that provisions like retrenchment, etc. that haven’t been suspended by many of these suspensions. We are of the opinion that although these measures are intended to encourage ease of doing business, but whether it furthers this intention cannot be ascertained as of now. 

  1. Moving forward can you think of any promising initiatives that your Centre will organise in near future to address labour exploitation?

Our Centre recently launched extension to our ‘mazdoormitra’ initiative, CLL-LAW (Centre for Labour Laws – Legal Aid Wing). Mr. Prasun Tiwari, a fourth-year student of NLIU, is the coordinator of this initiative. As the migrant crisis is coming to an end and labourers are re-joining their factories/industries, novel legal issues pertaining to payment of wages or denial of employer in taking them up are cropping up. Our Centre realised the same and launched a dedicated wing,with the assistance of Madhya Pradesh SLSA and DLSAs, to these labourers in dealing with these legal issues. We were delighted with the response received by CLL-LAW.In the past week, we have handled numerous legal queries. Apart from this, our Online blog namely ‘The Employment and Labour Law Blog’ went live last week, whose editor-in-chief is Ms. Pallavi Modi, also a fourth-year student. We feel honoured to have the renowned personalities in the legal fraternity namely, Prof. (Dr.) V. Vijaya kumar, Prof. (Dr.) Jeet Singh Mann, Prof. (Dr.) S Surya Prakash and Asst. Prof. Mahendra Soni on our Blog’s Board of Advisors. In recent future, we shall be releasing our Journal which shall be the first journal of any NLU that would be dedicated to labour and employment law. Moreover, we are in the process of creating a mobile application for labour welfare, in collaboration with one of the premier technical institutions of the country. The details of all these endeavours can be found on our social media handles. We are available on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

  1. Please tell us about the needs of your center and how people have supported you in your initiatives.

We are extremely grateful to all the State authorities and the NGOs who have provided CLL with the necessary assistance. Digital and print media, both regional and national, and especially legal media has helped us immensely in garnering the much-needed attention and spreading the word about us. Since the inception of CLL, we worked as an intermediary among the concerned stakeholders. Our initiatives didn’t involve any external or internal monetary support from any entity whatsoever. However, many people helped us pro bono in getting e-passes approved, providing food and shelters, etc. We hope and expect that legal community comes forward and helps us in providing legal assistance and other help to these labourers in these difficult times. We would really appreciate if legal publishing websites assist us in circulating information about our initiatives so that it could reach those in need. We would also be grateful for collaboration and support in printing and circulating material about labour and employment rights in the form of our upcoming Journal that could be circulated to the relevant stakeholders. Throughout this nation-wide lockdown, our members have worked relentlessly by coordinating over calls and conducting virtual meetings without any funding. We would be thankful if we could continue to get the necessary support from the legal community and the necessary coverage in our future initiatives too.

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