Migrant workers amidst COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown: Myriad misery, desperate exodus

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By Balwant Singh Mehta, I. C. Awasthi, Mashkoor Ahmad, Arjun Kumar*

With over 100,000 COVID-19 cases, India has entered its eighth week of lockdown, version 4.0. This lockdown 4.0 will remain in force till May 31. Ever since the announcement of the first national lockdown on 24th March, shutdown of transport and sealing of states/districts has created a humanitarian crisis in many states for panic stricken migrant workers, students, those between travels and transit. There has been some relaxation in the rules since lockdown 3.0 with relaxations rules and this crisis and ways and means to tackle it has taken the center stage, with many pertinent viewpoints, evidences, experiences and learnings.

Amid a lack of responsive mobility option, despair, treatment alike commodity and inferior citizens and serious concerns of being infected and the craving to be at the comforts of their homes, several million migrant workers and families, begun to tread on foot. With no government support of travel, their journey has often been several hundred miles following highways and railway tracks, often hungry and relentlessly tired. This has turned into the great human tragedy.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet Jeria also raised her concern and said in a statement that she was distressed by the plight of the informal migrant workers affected by the lockdown, many of whom were, in effect, forced to leave the cities where they worked. However, she hailed the Government efforts to address the crisis by providing proper shelter, food to these migrants, who were returning to their native places and were actually victims of pandemic. This kind of chaos finds an eerie similarity during the time of India-Pakistan partition in 1947, when millions of people from both sides were garrote at borders, leading to exceptionally brutal and terrible miseries.

The Supreme Court also ordered all concerned, that is the state government, public authorities and citizens, to comply with directives, advisory and orders issued by the central government in letter and spirit in the interest of public safety. The court directed that the migrant labourers should be dealt with ‘in a humane manner’ and that ‘trained counsellors, community leaders and volunteers must be engaged along with the police to supervise the welfare activities of migrants’.

Experiences of reverse migration- Risking everything to reach back home

The reverse movement of thousands of migrants is an ongoing challenge before the government- centre, state and local. In order to give relief to all of them and prevent infection from spreading, around 40,000 relief camps and shelters have been set up all over the country in which over 14 lakh stranded migrant workers and other needy people are provided relief (April 2020). Out of this, more than 80% of the relief camps have been set up by states, while the rest are by NGOs. Also, over 26,000 food camps have been set up in which more than 1 crore people have been provided food. Over 16.5 lakh workers are being provided with food and relief by their employers and industries. The hotspot of these relief shelters and camps are in the cities of Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, etc. The southern states are handling the situation relatively well as compared to the capital, Delhi and western states; eastern India being the labour supply hub in the country.

The statement ‘saving people lives is more important than economy’ has changed over the period with now economy has become equally important. As Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal on 4th May said “we will have to adapt and be ready to live with corona and all economic activities are shut, revenue generation has stopped how do we give salaries?, and how do we run the government” and he urged the central government to open the economy1.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also conveyed to chief ministers on 27 April that the country will have to give importance to the economy with continued fight against the novel coronavirus2. However, the people who are called the drivers of economic activities are wandering around helplessly and haplessly from the authorities.

A large number of migrants have already reached to their villages, and millions of others who are currently in the shelter homes and many who decided to stay back in cities are desperately waiting for the end of lockdown period to move their native places. This time many labourers will not come back due to shock and uncertainty, which means that most of small and medium size companies/factories and other businesses may face the heat once the lockdown period is over. There would be a shortage of labour or contract skilled workers and households also find tough to run their daily work without the helpers/drivers/maids etc. The production and profits of small/medium size factories or businesses will suffer due to shortage of labourers and other contract skilled workers. Because the scale of their production/business would get reduce and their wage bill will also rise due to higher payment to retain the limited available labour-force. Shortage of workers poses challenge to restart the economy.

Perils amidst lockdown

Migrant workers and families are now desperately leaving from their destination to their native places. They are hurt by the fact that the destination places particularly the cities are treating them badly and most of them have lost the trust on the government, and a hope to make ends meet in their native places. Despite repeated assurances from the central and state governments, millions of migrants are desperate to return from cities with double threats of life and livelihood by covid-19. However, the early sign of unexpected surge in unemployment rate (Bihar: 47%; Jharkhand: 47%; UP: 22%), at the native places of migrants indicate a threatening picture ahead3.

While they are not only the economic driver of destinations places but also play a vital role in development and growth of industries, businesses, people and many others. Of course, the state governments are taking care of these migrants at present but the companies, businessmen, contractors and other highly paid service workers hardly come forward to help those migrants during their hard time. In this context, the Telangana CM K Chandrasekhar Rao is the first person, who goes all out to prevent exodus of migrant labourers and assured all help to them and announced in ‘Hindi’, the language most of the migrants workers understand “You are the key driver of our state economy, we will make all the arrangement and provide you shelter, food and daily cash of Rs 500 during the lockdown period and urge you to stay back”. However, similar statements also came from others, such as CM of Delhi, Haryana, UP and Maharashtra and many others, with marginal or no implementation and reach. Prime Minister Modi has also realized the tragedy of migrants’ workers and apologized in Mann Ki Baat, but no industrialist, business or business association have made such a gesture.

Facets of migration from Census 2001 and 2011

In India, the level of urbanization has increased manifolds (about one-third population living in urban areas in 2011 as per Census), which resulted in demographic explosion and poverty-induced rural-urban migration. A large number of people from rural and backward areas and regions have started to migrate to cities and metropolitan regions and developed states for better livelihood opportunities and standard of living.

Moreover, the movement of internal labour and migration in India, in terms of: Inter-region has been largely from eastern to western regions in the country; rural to urban centres- small, medium, big, mega/metro; towards urban centres within district/nearby regions; and urban to urban (among various class sizes), urban to rural and rural to rural. In recent times, the purpose and tenure has been subject to changing dynamics, as well as with the improvements in infrastructure, technology and service delivery.

This is reflected from rising number of inter-state migrants that increased from 42.3 million in 2001 to 56.3 million in 2011. From the total inter-state migrants, one-third (30.3% i.e. 17.1 million) migrated for economic purposes. The Economic Survey 2017 further estimated that at least 9 million people migrate between states annually within the country with 33% of them for economic purposes. If this trend continues, the inter-state migrants are estimated approximately around 146 million at present with 47 million migrant workers. Over 90% of the migrants are estimated to be males and the top sourced places are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (Eastern India states), while the top destinations places for migration are Delhi and Mumbai (Metropolitan Regions) and, Western and Southern India.

It is well documented that the migrant workers, engaged in non-high skilled occupation and having less technical education and skills, remain the most vulnerable groups, who are the real builders and maintainers of the cities. These city makers are primarily engaged in casual wage jobs in informal sector—construction workers, street vendors, restaurant employees, delivery persons, rickshaw drivers, and so on. The impact on their lives is precarious as they are dependent on day- to- day work for earnings without any significant social assistance and protection in the event of abrupt cancellations that has happened with the lockdown.

Most of migrants come alone to destinations and visit to their native places several times in a year. They remain connected with their family and deeply rooted with native places. That is the reason most of the migrants at the time of national lockdown are eager to return to their native places- small towns or villages. Unfortunately, our cities look so cruel to migrant who run urban life with their hard work and the state governments response for their well-being (or even their count, registry or reach) portray negligence.

2001-2011: Inter-Censal findings on migration data

In 2011, around 447 million (37 percent of total population, including immigrants) have been identified as migrants by place of birth. Across gender, females constituted around seventy percentage of this figure. There has been an increase of about 140 million migrants between 2001 and 2011.

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Majority of the migrants moved for short distances i.e. within their district of birth. Intra-district migrants (those who moved within their district of birth) comprised almost sixty percent followed by inter-district migrants (27 percent) who moved from one district to another within the state of their birth. While about 12.6 percent migrants moved across the state boundary. International in-migrants comprised only 1.2 percent of all the migrants in by place of birth in 2011 as compared to 2.0 percent in 2001.

The proportion various types of migrants were significantly different in rural and urban areas. Inter-state migrants registered a higher proportion in urban areas as compared to the rural areas. Overall, among migrants though ratio of females was higher because of marriage migration but among the inter-state migrants in urban areas, the share of male migrants was marginally higher than female migrants.

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In 2011, Maharashtra with about 9.8 million migrants was largest home of inter-state migrants followed by National Capital Region of Delhi (6.4 million) and Uttar Pradesh (4.0 million) in 2011. Uttar Pradesh, though primarily an out-migrating state, has also emerged as third largest destination for inter-state migrants.

During 2001-2011, on the basis of place of last residence about 134 million people have been identified as internal migrants. Of these, 47.3 percent migrants moved from rural to rural areas. On the other hand, rural to urban and urban to urban migration streams each comprised about 22 percent of the total migrants. While urban to rural migration stream only accounted 8.5 percent migrants during the last decade.

During this period, North Indian states have experienced net out migration. Uttar Pradesh-the most populated state of India, and Bihar- the most densely populated state and one of the poorest states of India have emerged as highly out-migrating states. Uttar Pradesh experienced as net loss of 3.4 million people as 1.4 million people in-migrated while 4.8 million people out-migrated from the state to other states of the country during the last decade. Another important state experiencing net out-migration includes Bihar (with a net loss of 2.7 million people) during 2001-2011.

migration3

Other out-migrating states being Rajasthan, West Bengal and Assam, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh. Among South Indian states, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu recorded a negative net migration. Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi have come up as favorite destinations for people from different states of the country. During 2001-2011, about 3.6 million people entered in Maharashtra while only 1.2 million people out-migrated thereby indicating the net in-migration of 2.4 million people. In all, 15 states have recorded positive net in-migration while 13 states of the country recorded negative net out-migration. Interestingly, all the Union Territories have experienced a positive net in-migration during 2001-2011.

Remarkable differences have been found for reasons of migration across gender. During the period, the most significant reason for migration among males was work/employment (31.4 percent) and marriage among females (60.3 percent). Among the inter-state migrants, 51 percent males migrated for work/employment as compared 6.1 percent among females. Among male migrant’s, 5 percent migrated for education as compared to 1.7 percent among females.

Varying Estimates of Migrant Workers from Official Secondary Sources

There are several estimates floating around about the number of migrants who are leaving from the destination (mostly urban places) due to absence of any updated information. Some estimates are4:

(i) The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), Employment & Unemployment and Migration Particulars (64th) Round estimates showed that migrant workers were 32 million in 2007-085.

(ii) According to the Census of India, inter-state migrants’ workers grew annually at the rate of 4.5% from 33 million in 2001 to 51 million in 2011. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had the greatest number of migrants (29 million).

(iii) As per the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), migrant workers grew annually at the rate of 21% from 16 million in 2004-05 to 60 million in 2011-12.

(iv) Economic Survey 2016-17 estimated 80 million migrant workers and over half of these migrants belonged to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, while Delhi region received around half of total migration. Further, the survey suggested around 9 million workers migrate across states annually.

(v) Estimates based on Census 2011 and NSSO shows that the total number of inter-state migrants in India stands at around 65 million in 2020. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar account for 25 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Other estimates after including the short-term circular migrants shows that there are about 140 million inter-state migrants’ workers in India in 2020. This includes nearly 60 million short-term circular migrants in 2020, which are left out from census and other surveys.

Desperation to return home: Latest numbers from administrative data

The above estimates are only indicative, the visible reports of current registration by migrants to return home clearly reflects their desperation. About two million have registered in UP (one million returned as well), over 600000 in Jharkhand, and about 1 million in Bihar for coming home6. On the other hand, 2 million migrants registered to go home from Gujarat7, 644 thousand from Punjab 8, 225 thousand from Telangana9 and over 146 thousand from Haryana10. The registered data reveal that over three-fourth of the registered migrants are either from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. The registration process is still on and more will register for return to home.

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Their desperation to go home can be seen that even after announcement of various measures and assurance of essentials and retaining their livelihood by opening the economic activities, they are not ready to stay anymore. Many of them do not have proof of domicile in the places they work, cannot get a ration card and thus remain out of the ambit of the public distribution system. More than a month after the nationwide lockdown dried up the sources of livelihood for migrant workers in different parts of the country; the Union Home Ministry has passed an order allowing the inter-state movement of these workers. Even as shelter homes and relief camps were set up to support the millions of migrants who were stranded across the country, many of them now did manage to return to their villages and others are waiting to go. By all accounts, most of them have spent the past two-month in overcrowded shelters arranged by governments, civil society groups or employers.

Most are upset over the treatment they received from their employers and knowing that cities still have not accepted those migrants. Even after so many years of contribution in the progress of destination places, its governments have not provided them any assistance and break their trust. They live in rented houses in slums and informal settlements, construction sites, pavements without proper supplies of water and sanitation facilities, and electricity. In rural areas or at origin places, they can access the government welfare schemes such as MGNREGS, the PM Kisan Yojana, and ration from Public Distribution System and many others. However, in absence of documents or IDs in cities or urban areas, they cannot access such government welfare schemes. This is one important lesson they learnt due to this pandemic.

Hence, they are desperate to return to their native places. The relief camps set up for them have merely delayed the inevitable. Now, the central government and many states governments have ensured the safe return of migrants to their home. Despite industry concerns, number of states refused to stop trains and buses which have announced to carry migrant workers. However, migrant workers need to fill in registration forms to travel back by special trains, which many of them find difficult and many still prefer to travel on-foot or by cycle to homes.

Economic drivers of the Nation: The real invisible hands

Migrant workers are considered to be the backbone of economic activities in urban centres across India, be it the unskilled casual labour in construction work or semi-skilled contract workers in factory, or domestic helps. They are driver of urban lives and economy as many of them work in factories, build roads and houses, drive autos or taxis and work in informal sector. The industry people and employers are realizing for the first time, the fact that activities in their industries will not see a recovery without the migrant labourers. Most relatively developed or industrialized states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, and Karnataka would face a labour crisis to kick-start economic and other industrial activities as many migrants are returning home and many more are planning to do so. This mass reverse migration has raised concerns over the looming economic crisis. There are questions on what will happen to small and medium size industries and other economic activities that are fully dependent upon the labourers.

It is true that these migrants are not only an economic agent at destination places but also at their origin places, who sent a huge amount of money as remittances to their families. The home states migrant workers also fear that huge return migrants, in the absence of adequate employment opportunities, will surge the joblessness in rural areas and spread the pandemic in hitherto Covid-19 free regions. Therefore, the economy of migrant’s home states will also be affected badly on four counts:

(i) increasing pressure to generate livelihood opportunities to return migrants.

(ii) reduction in remittances or cash flow from the out-migrants.

(iii) in the absence of adequate employment opportunities, the joblessness in rural areas will surge further.

(iv) fear of spread the pandemic in hitherto Covid-19 free regions

The businesses, and other industrial bodies have already started putting pressure on the governments to stem the reverse migration as shortage of manpower will impede their ability to restart work. A key reason for this is the concern raised by MSMEs who think that they may not be able to resume their operation fully because of huge dependence on migrant worker. This is evident now that for the first time, the plight of migrant workers has gained a serious attention, who are invisible and are not considered as an important economic agent or drivers, both at the destination and origin places.

Few suggestions and way forward

Migrant workers are often considered nowhere citizen and denied their entitlements and who forms the poorest and disadvantaged sections of the society. This vulnerable lot is invisible and mostly neglected in policy discourse. The enormous miseries faced in the current pandemic witnessed their widespread misery and untold sufferings.

The most important questions would be finding a job or means of livelihood for return migrants. States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand are worst hit by the reverse migration. If they decide to stay back at the origin for a longer period it will pose a huge challenge to the home and destination State governments and economy.

Some of the following short term and long-term policy suggestions are given for the betterment of migrants, which should not be treated as ‘outsiders’ but as an ‘economic agents’:

  • The central and state governments should work in synchronization to protect the interests of both migrant workers and the employers. After the lifting of lockdown, the challenge is to bringing back the return migrants to restart economic activities in urban areas. They should be provided dignified jobs with assurance of social security and other facilities such as housing and safe environment with provision of assistance in sending their native places at the times of crisis.
  • A large number of inter-state migrants used to migrate in the cities by leaving their families at the place of origin and frequently visit to them and also send money. In such cases, the documentation or identification proofs of a migrant could be different from the destination state or where they work. However, these documents such as ration card and Aadhar are crucial for receiving the social security benefits. In this connection, there is an urgent need to form universal documents (applicable to all states) or ensure portability of benefits across the country such as Public Distribution Systems, MGNREGA, health insurance and other benefits. The honorable supreme court has already urged the government for ‘one nation, one ration card’ scheme during lockdown. Such a permanent solution is need of the hour.
  • There is an urgent need to maintain a dynamic registry for the migrants to prepare a database, supplemented with their skill-sets and job requirement details for greater usage. So that appropriate policy measures can be taken for the welfare of migrants in the time of pandemic like the current one. The state can employ the unskilled returning migrants to some extent under the government’s MGNREGA scheme, and generate suitable employment for skilled workers to retail the return migrants in the long run. These registries need to be instituted using latest digital technologies and innovations, along with a dynamic unemployment registry to provide direct economic (universal basic income), health (universal coverage), and other necessary contingency protection and support in an integrated ecosystem.
  • According to the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act (ISMW) act 1979, an interstate migrant worker is any person who is not recruited by or through licensed contractors. However, most of the migrant workers are not routed through licensed contractors, so a huge number of migrants are excluded from getting the benefit of ISMW act. This act is only applicable to establishment which has five or more inter-state migrant workers or employees. The current crisis has exposed the inadequacy of this act. There is a need to modify the existing ISMW act for the welfare of inter-migrant.
  • Similarly, under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996, the State government have funds collected in the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board. However, the list of the workers and the usage of the fund under the board have serious impediments which needs to be improved upon to make it impactful.
  • While the Census is held decennially, the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) used to fill the gap with surveys on employment and migration every five years. The Census does provide the aggregated numbers with limited qualitative dimensions. The last NSSO survey on internal migration and outmigration was held in 2007–08. Hence, it is an opportune time for a comprehensive plan to address the data lags.
  • Certainly, the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana National Urban Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NULM) Scheme of Shelters for Urban Homeless (SUH) has not been able to demonstrate its commitment of ‘Antyodaya’ for the urban and shelter poor. In fact, DAY-NULM which could have come to the rescue of these workers, itself suffers from several inherent challenges. For instance, for the last 18 months the Government has been mulling over the idea of outsourcing the upkeep of the mission to corporates and philanthropic institutions. This implicit failure of the Government that led to the generation of such an idea is further amplified by hiring big private consultants as project monitoring units, having a “corporate-style target achievement attitude.” Further, the inconsiderate approach of the authorities during times of economic slowdown, when the migrant workers are the hardest hit, is evident from the meagre increase in the budgetary allocation for DAY-NULM vis-à-vis the flagship schemes of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA). It was Rs 750 crore (in 2019-20) and was raised by only six per cent to Rs 795 crore in 2020-21. Further, there is a need of urgent action task force (in short term) and homeless policy (in medium term) in all the states to tackle these issues in a more planned manner in future. Expanding the SUH component of DDU-NULM to meet the decent space and shelter requirements along with catering to the shelter needs of women, children, elderly, persons with disabilities; community kitchens; medical help; in-kind assistance through public distribution systems, water, toilets, etc.
  • The innovative approach in Chapter 11 of the Economic Survey 2019-20, ‘Thalinomics: The Economics of a Plate of Food in India’, that attempts to quantify what a common person pays for a Thali (platter) across India, deserves special mention. It estimates that the all-India price of a decent vegetarian and non-vegetarian meal (constructed using the dietary guidelines by National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, for Indians) as little under Rs. 25 and Rs. 40, respectively. Therefore, in the current health emergency, the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) package should be expanded to ensure a balanced diet and dignified food assistance is provided to the poor. Understandably, the minimum assistance to achieve these norms for balanced diet and sundry expenses, direct cash transfer of around INR 2000 per person per month (that is a dollar a day) should also be implemented as an option in addition to the PDS system, especially given the failure of food distribution system and delivery capacity as observed in past months during the crisis.
  • Given the importance of prevention of spread of Coronavirus, contact tracing, surveillance, e-passes, and other such usage of Aarogya Setu app, harnessing the technology, an android phone supporting the app should be made available to each citizen, especially to the migrants who are at more risk. Graded approach can be taken for ensuring the availability based upon the affordability of Individuals and families.

Latest updates (at the start of National Lockdown 4.0)

The Prime Minister announced a special economic and comprehensive package of Rs 20 lakh crore on 12 May 2020. As part of the economic measures “Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan” (Self Reliant India Campaign), the Finance Minister announced many short- and long-term measures for supporting the poor including migrant workers11. Along with the above and some of the latest other announcements pertaining to migrant workers are:

  • Free food grains supply to migrants for 2 months: This includes distribution of free food grains and pulses to 8 crores migrant labourers. Additional food grain to all the States/UTs at the rate of 5 kg per migrant labourer and 1 kg Chana per family per month for two months i.e. May and June, 2020 free of cost shall be allocated. Migrant labourers not covered under National Food Security Act or without a ration card in the State/UT in which they are stranded at present will be eligible. The entire outlay of Rs. 3500 crores will be borne by Government of India12.
  • To provide a fillip to employment, Government will now allocate an additional Rs 40,000 crore under MGNREGS: The Centre has decided to allocate an additional Rs 40,000 crore for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). In the Union Budget 2020-21, the government had allocated Rs 61,500 crore for MGNREGS, and the Rs 40,000 crore allocation will be over and above the budget estimate. This move will help generate nearly 300 crore person days in total.
  • Technology system to be used enabling Migrants to access PDS (Ration) from any Fair Price Shops in India by March, 2021 – One Nation one Ration Card: Pilot scheme for portability of ration cards will be extended to 23 states. By that, 67 crore beneficiaries covering 83% of PDS population will be covered by National portability of Ration cards by August, 2020. 100% National portability will be achieved by March, 2021. This is part of PM’s Technology Driven System Reforms. This scheme will enable a migrant worker and their family members to access PDS benefits from any Fair Price Shop in the country. This will ensure that the people in transit, especially migrant workers can also get the benefit of PDS benefit across the country.
  • Scheme for Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHC) for Migrant Workers and Urban Poor to be launched: Central Government will launch a scheme for migrant workers and urban poor to provide ease of living at affordable rent. Affordable Rental Housing Complexes will provide social security and quality life to migrant labour, urban poor, and students etc. This will be done through converting government funded houses in the cities into ARHC under PPP mode through concessionaire; manufacturing units, industries, institutions, associations to develop ARHC on their private land and operate; and Incentivizing State Govt agencies/Central Government Organizations on similar lines to develop ARHC and operate. The exact details of the scheme will be released by the Ministry/Department.
  • National Migrant Information System (NMIS) – a central online repository on Migrant Workers: It is being developed by NDMA to facilitate their seamless movement across States. In order to capture the information regarding movement of migrants and facilitate the smooth movement of stranded persons across States, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has developed an online Dashboard – National Migrant Information System (NMIS). The online portal would maintain a central repository on migrant workers and help in speedy inter-State communication/co-ordination to facilitate their smooth movement to native places. It has additional advantages like contact tracing, which may be useful in overall COVID-19 response work.
  • In order to ensure safer and quicker transportation of migrants, Indian Railways ready to run Shramik Special trains from all the districts connected by Railways in the country: Indian Railways has got the capacity to run almost 300 Shramik special trains a day, however, less than half are being presently utilised. Full capacity Operationalisation of the railways Rakes would provide significant relief to the migrants across the country who are seeking to go to their home states. Indian Railways is ready to augment the running of Shramik special trains as per the actual needs of the districts. As of 17 May 2020, more than 15 lakh migrants have already been transported by the Railways to their home states and almost 1150 Shramik Special trains have been operationalised. Indian Railways can easily transport almost double number of migrants per day. Once the information about migrants wishing to go back to their home states is made available from each district, then Indian Railways can take further action to help operationalise the trains13.
  • PM CARES Fund Trusts allocates Rs. 1000 Crores for Relief Measures for Migrants: For strengthening the existing measures being taken for the welfare of the migrants and poor, the States/UTs will be given a lumpsum assistance of total Rs. 1000 Crore from PM CARES Fund. This amount would be provided to the State Governments/UTs to place it at the disposal of the District Collectors/Municipal Commissioners for strengthening their efforts in providing accommodation facilities, making food arrangements, providing medical treatment and making transportation arrangements of the migrants. State/UT-wise funds will be released on the weightage of: (a) Population of the State/UT as per 2011 Census – 50%, weightage (b) Number of positive COVID-19 cases as on date – 40% weightage and (c) Equal share (10% weightage) for all states/UTs to ensure basic minimum sum for all states. The fund will be released to the District Collector/District Magistrate/Municipal Commissioner through the State Disaster Relief Commissioner of the States/UTs concerned.
  • In the wake several instances of deaths amidst the humanitarian crisis of migrant workers, several state governments like UP, Delhi among others have started active monitoring on the ground to ensure that no migrant workers are stranded on the transport route and they safely reach their homes.

Summing up

In retrospect, the national lockdown 3.0 period may offer many lessons to employers, workers and governments. For migrants, distance matter and the lockdown have given a new lesson that could lead to a significant reduction in long distance migration, especially without appropriate incentives and adhering to safety norms. Number of migrants who fled the big cities may now prefer to work in their marginal farm or find work in nearby towns. It could deprive many manufacturing units and business centers in Delhi, Mumbai, Surat, Tripura and Gurugram etc. for a long period of time and the businesses and economy are likely to face a recession, if not depression. In this process, the sources States will also have the burden of rising labour force with more unemployed or underemployed people. They need to create more job opportunity in rural areas particularly in non-farm activities with a gainful employment to those migrants who do not want to go back to the cities and rely on their day to day labour for earning their livelihood and make a decent living. Undeniably, this is an unprecedented situation at the the times of pandemic and the ways and means to tackle the same has to be sensitive, responsive, quick and above all caring. In the post-Covid-19 situation, bringing back the confidence and trust of the migrant workers, over the course of time, by the governments and market stakeholders, will be one of the most important foundation stepping stone towards the envisaged vision of New India.

autorsAuthors (respectively): Balwant Singh Mehta is Fellow at Institute for Human Development (IHD) and Co-Founder & Visiting Senior Fellow at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi; IC Awasthi is Secretary, Indian Society of Labour Economics (ISLE) and Indian Association of Social Science Institutions (IASSI); Professor, Institute for Human Development (IHD), and Mentor, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi; Mashkoor Ahmad is Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh and Visiting Fellow, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi; Arjun Kumar is Director, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi and China-India Visiting Scholar Fellow, Ashoka University

Endnotes:

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