The Context: MOIA’s Proposed Emigration Management Act 2010
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) is all set to introduce the Emigration Management Act 2010. Though the Act has not been put forth by the ministry for public consultation so far, it is slated to be introduced in the next session of the Parliament. According to newspaper reports MOIA has confirmed that inter-ministerial consultations on the Emigration Management Bill, 2010 is over and the Bill will soon be sent to the Cabinet for its approval. The draft Bill was sent to various ministries including Law Ministry and Home Ministry for their comments. The cabinet approval to be bill will be obtained by the end of June, after which the Bill would be tabled in Parliament.
The Emigration Act of 1983 which is a modified version of the Emigration Act of 1922 has in principle certain provisions that ensure rights of workers. Section 22 of the Act states that “No citizen of India shall emigrate unless he obtains under this chapter from the protector of emigrants authorization in the prescribed manner”. The act provides for setting up of the protector general of immigrants for the protection and safety of the migrants from India. The Act also provides for the registration of recruitment agents. Recruiting agents need to obtain licence from the protector general of immigrants for recruiting persons for overseas employment.
The MOIA’s present initiatives to amend the Emigration Act 1983 emerge largely as: First, there is increasing global demand for Indian labour. Second, there is an increasing realisation of international migration as a key source of revenue US$ 52 billion in 2009 according to World Bank estimates, and third, ongoing process of reforms towards deregulation and an increasing emphasis on compliance with WTO and World bank standards which mark a shift away from the approach of protection of workers to that of protecting the interests of the investors and business.
While the government claims that the aim of amending the Emigration Act 1983 is to make it more effective, the thrust is in effect moving from the approach of protecting the migrants to managing the migrants. This implies dire consequences for the well-being and the rights of migrant workers, particularly the unskilled migrant workers and the undocumented migrant workers.
The CSOs and migrants rights organisations have in the past pointed that provisions of the 1983 Act are inadequate and insufficient, and there are numerous instances of violations of rights. They have hence demanded from the government more stringent and effective measures with a rights-based approach.
While the MOIA is keeping the text of the new bill as a secret, newspaper reports have pointed out that the new emigration law will include ‘zero tolerance’ towards 20 million ‘irregular’ migrants into India, particularly from Nepal and Bangladesh. Prior to this the government has announced a seven-point action plan in September last year to stop what the call illegal migration.
In India foreigners, including migrants, possess specific rights under articles 14, 21, and 25 of the Indian Constitution. Article 14 provides the right to equality before the law to any person within the territory of India. Article 21 ensures that no person is deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law, and Article 25 guarantees the right to freedom of religion to all persons, regardless of whether or not they are citizens. But currently, many of these rights are not being safeguarded in effective ways, either because migrant workers are being forced into a system of ‘illegality’ owing to the absence of regular avenues for seeking employment in India, or because even immigrants staying and working lawfully in India are facing administrative and legal discrimination. Migrants rights organizations have been demanding that these concerns need to be meaningfully addressed. But the government’s increasing emphasis on ‘migration management’ approach is essentially based on the primacy of the market and ignores rights of migrants.
Rights of migrants need to be guaranteed in any legal or administrative instrument that the government proposes. It is also important that trade unions and migrant organisations take a strong position and defend the rights of the migrants.
It is crucial that at this juncture for migrant’s rights organisations, trade unions and other CSOs to convincingly influence the government to have in place policies that protect migrant workers rights, reject migration as a tool to promote economic development; and argue against the approach of “migration management” which restricts mobility of workers.
Immediate action is needed.
In this context it is necessary that trade unions take a firm stand and raise demand for a national tripartite meeting, intervention of labour ministry, political parties and CSOs.