Window Seat: Need for a multi-purpose identity card for the Migrant Labourers

6/09/2020 at 7:00 AM

Corona pandemic in India negatively impacted the life and livelihood of tens of millions of people. Migrant labourers have been the worst sufferers. Thousands walked hundreds of miles to reach their homes- hundreds of miles away. Many perished on the way. The image of hundreds of labourers along with their children walking on the deserted highway, some on the railway lines- became a metaphor of the pandemic.

After they reached home, within few days- many of them wanted to go back to where they had come from- to earn. Some could. Many could not. Hunger stared at them. Union and State Governments promised them free food, which reached some. Many could not access it.

The 2011 census had located 5.6 crore migrant labourers but this is indeed a fluctuating sector as many migrate to other states very seasonally — during sowing and harvest seasons and other such ’seasons’.

There are twomajor problems in reaching them help. One, asserting their identity and two, logistics- how to each them. Former bureaucrat JawaharSircarhas some workable and sensible suggestions. He suggests giving  a multi-purpose identity card to all migrant labourers. He writes, “The point I make is that unless a multi-purpose identity card is issued to migrants who can use at ATMs for cash grants and draw rations anywhere in India, we will never be able to tackle such always-moving populations.In fact, if they should be able to register their presence anywhere in India by just punching the card in any post office, railways or bus station and other public place. Both central and state governments would then have all data — on where they are at present. They can use this data (and mobiles — almost everyone has one) to contact and give relief and subsidised rations.” 

Dr. Saroj Ghose

There are people who could be called institution builders. Like Dr. VergheseKurien, who built brand Amul and helped make India become one of the largest producers of milk. Or, Vikram Sarabhai, who regarded as the Father of the Indian Space Program. Or E. Sreedharan, popularly known as ‘Metro Man’.He is credited for changing the face of public transport in India with his leadership in building the Calcutta, Delhi and Kochi Metro and Konkan Railway.

Dr. SarojGhose, who turned 85 on September 1, 2020, is one such person. He is considered as the Father of the Science Centre Movement in India. The doyen of science popularization movement in India.

Way back in the 1960s, he dreamt of taking science to the millions in the country through Science Museums and Science Centres and played a pivotal role in establishing the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) in 1978, which resulted in the setting up of Science Centres in different parts of the country, including the Nehru Science Centre in Mumbai. Science Museums and Science Centres are institutions that popularize science and technology in a non-formal way.

Dr. Ghose graduated from Jadavpur University in Electrical and Communication Engineering, and joined the upcoming Birla Industrial & Technological Museum (BITM), in Kolkata, under the aegis of CSIR. BITM was opened in 1959 and Dr. Ghose soon became an indispensable part of it.

In 1965, Dr. Ghose took charge of BITM as it launched the ‘Mobile Science Museum’ (now called Mobile Science Exhibition) at Ramakrishna Ashram School, Narendrapur, near Kolkata. The exhibition was on the theme ‘Our Familiar Electricity’ which had 30 exhibits mounted on portable stands and carried by bus. The philosophy behind this traveling exhibition was, “If children cannot come to the Science Museum, the Science Museum will go to them”. NCSM now operates 48 Mobile Science Exhibition buses throughout the country. Limca Book of Records recognized this program as the largest and the longest-running Non-Formal Science Education Programme in India.

In the early 1970s, Dr. Ghose went to the USA for higher studies where he earned an M.S. degree in ‘Control Engineering’ from Harvard University. While in the USA, he noticed how The Exploratorium, San Francisco, was changing the very concept of how children should learn science with the help of interactive exhibits to explore the rudiments of scientific principles.

Dr. Ghose introduced this concept in India and Nehru Science Centre at Mumbai became the first Science Centre in India fully equipped with interactive exhibits. The center was opened in 1985. Later on, in 1992, National Science Centre, Delhi was opened in the same format.

Prior to this in 1979, the International Year of the Child, he turned a municipal garbage ground at Worli in Mumbai into the world’s first science park, where children could explore the basics of science while playing with the exhibits, set up in the lush green ambiance of the park. The model was globally followed by large numbers of science centers and is considered as an original contribution by NCSM. In 1985, this became the Nehru Science Centre, considered as the largest interactive science center in India.

In 1978, the Govt of India delinked the two existing Science Museums and one Science Centre from CSIR, and the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM) was formed. Dr. Ghose took over as Director of NCSM in 1979 and in 1986 as the Director-General.

Under his leadership, 18 Science Centres (2 National Level, 7 at Regional Level and 8 at Sub-Regional/District Level) were set up across India. These Science Centres continue to play a vital role in spreading the message of Science in the country since their inceptions. Dr. Ghose retired from NCSM’s service in 1997, but NCSM continued his good work by setting up large numbers of science centers across the country.

The illustrious career of Dr. SarojGhose is studded with many national and international recognitions. He was conferred with ‘Padma Shri’ in 1989 and ‘Padma Bhushan’ in 2007.

After retirement from NCSM in 1997, Dr. Ghose kept himself busy with the development of Kolkata Panorama for the Kolkata Museum Society, Parliament Museum, RashtrapatiBhavan Museum etc. He was also the Museum Advisor to the President of India.

Cow Dung

The woman rolling the lumps of fuel in Bihar or Haryana or in rural Odisha hardly knows that she is making an astonishing contribution to the national economy. One though, that will not figure in our GDP.

If the millions of households using cow dung as a fuel switched over to fossil fuels (our family, for example. My mother used to buy dried cow-dung cakes; it is called Ghasi- in Bengali and Odia- before the gas cylinder and stove arrived), it would be a catastrophe. India already spends more foreign exchange on the import of petroleum and its products than on any other item.

Dung is a vital organic fertiliser input used by millions in raising crops. It also works as an insect repellent and has many other uses. Cut it any way you like. The women who collect dung in the country — and it is ‘women’s work’ — save India millions, maybe billions of dollars that we’d otherwise spend on petroleum, fertilizer, and insecticide imports each year.

Compact cow-dung cakes could be an excellent alternative to wood used for burning dead-bodies in crematoriums. Machines are available to make these compact dung cakes. These machines could be installed in every Gou-shalas to get dung easily. These could be used in crematoriums.

Tailpiece: Lockdown Effects

1. Having practiced lethargy for 4 months, I am ready for audition for the first season of “Indian Idle”

2. I started a new hobby – gardening. 

I planted myself before the TV and I have grown noticeably

3. The lockdown is like the movie Dabangg. 

Doesn’t make any sense, but sequels keep getting made

4. Without access to a barber, I look barbaric. 

The more I stay at home, the more homeless I look.

5. Does anyone know of a digital raddi-wala? 

I have 80 GB of e-newspapers on my phone

6. I’ve become quite shapely during the lockdown- round in the middle, long in the face and obtuse in the head!!

7.  Shaamkophirbaithenge teen yaar. Mein, bartan, aur Vim Bar


MrinalChatterjee, a journalist turned media academician lives in Central Odisha town Dhenkanal. He writes fiction and of late has started translated Urdu and Hindi poetry into Odia.

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