The Coronavirus Pandemic has affected everyone but to some, it has led to complete disturbance in their lives. One such section is the migrant workforce of the nation. The people walking to their home states in desperation have been one of the dark images of the pandemic that hit the nation. The world bank estimates that the lockdown has impacted over 40 million internal migrants in India.
What is migration?
- Human migration is a phenomenon of human movement from one place to another in search of better living conditions, employment, with the intention of settling down in a new place temporarily or permanently.
- When a person is enumerated in Census at a different place than his/her place of birth, she/he is considered a ‘migrant’ (website of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India)
- Recently, migration has also been caused by climate change, migration due to political conflict has been on the rise.
- Migration takes place in the following forms
- Immigration- An act of moving into a country
- Emigration– An act of moving out of a country
- India has been a land which has attracted migrations inward since ages and it has seen outward migration increasingly after independence, especially after liberalization post-1991.
- Apart from this international migration, Indians migrate intrastate and interstate heavily i.e. within the country.
- The Census 2011 data shows that migration has only increased since the beginning of the 21st
- Over 45.58 crore Indians were found to be migrants for various reasons during Census 2011, 30% higher than the previous Census.
- Marriage and employment have been the two major reasons for migration in India.
- The four streams of internal migration are
- Rural to Rural
- Rural to Urban
- Urban to Urban
- Urban to Rural
What are the causes of migration?
People have an emotional attachment to their place of birth. But millions of people leave
their places of birth and residence. There could be a variety of reasons.
- Push factors
- High population pressure on land
- Lack of basic infrastructure facilities like health, education
- Natural disasters
- Local conflicts
- Pull factors
- Better opportunities
- Higher standards of living
- Availability of employment
- Higher wages
- Availability of better infrastructure of health, education, recreational facilities.
What are the consequences of migration?
Migration is a result of the uneven distribution of opportunities and development over space. People move from one place to another place for higher opportunities and better safety. This creates both benefits and problems. These are enumerated as follows.
- People moving into urban areas see a rise in income, can enjoy easy access to better health, education facilities.
- Migration brings human capital to the demand centers of the workforce. It supplies labor-skilled and unskilled-to the industry and other sectors in urban areas.
- Creation of slums and low-quality amenities to the citizens living there-ghettoization.
- As slums are illegal mostly, without any documentation, migrated poor people are excluded from social benefits.
- Migration to urban areas does not necessarily mean skilling. So, the migrated population essentially works as a daily wage unskilled labor.
- Migration brings in cultural adaptation as well as social tensions etc.
- Migration from rural areas leave demographic gaps in these areas. There is a large population of dependent people like women, senior citizens, etc.
COVID-19 and migration
Migration has been in the talks since the countrywide lockdown has been declared in March 2020. The huge river of people on the move on their legs has been a defining scene of the effects of the pandemic and consequent lockdown of the economy.
Why are the people migrating?
- The lockdown has resulted in huge reverse migration. The migrants, estimated 453.6 million, are the worst sufferers of the lockdown.
- With daily wages have dried up, most of them can barely afford to pay house-rent or even food and are thus left with nothing but to move to their native areas as they can at least fulfill their basic needs there.
- Most of these people are construction workers, street vendors, security guards, domestic helps, etc. The norms of social distancing mandates these works to be stopped. Hence, they are left with no income source.
- The exodus is mainly from Delhi and National Capital region, Industrial states such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu etc. The exodus is directed mostly towards Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Odisha.
- The measures to tackle the pandemic are very difficult to maintain in settlements of these migrant workers as they are highly crowded and unhygienic.
- The suddenness of the pandemic, too, was one of the reasons of this emergency exit. The poor migrants did not get any time to prepare for the lockdown period and without any clarity in the initial days of how the government will help the migrants, they chose to migrate.
- Many people who were returning to the villages out of frustration said that they would die if not from virus then from hunger.
- Apart from laborers, students located in educational hubs such as Kota, Pune, Delhi were left stranded due to suspension of travel means.
- As lockdown came into force, all the means of communication too were suspended. This forced the migrant population to chose to trace the long roads, mostly in the range of 1000-1500kms, by walking.
- Apart from this internal migration, there are many citizens stranded in foreign countries. They went there for employment, education, tourism, and other reasons. They are also facing difficulties as they are in foreign land and some of them don’t have money left to spend and also don’t qualify for government help there.
What are the effects of the migration during the pandemic?
- Loss of lives
Till now, reportedly, more than 350 deaths happened due to starvation, exhaustion, suicides, rail and, road accidents od homebound migrants.
- Spread of COVID-19
- The huge crowds at the railway stations, Bus depots can be hotspots of COVID-19 and there is a looming threat of initiation of community spread.
- The migrating population has not been tested for Corona infection due to lack of enough and speedy testing facilities. If the infection reaches the distant villages of the country, the outbreak will be beyond the capacities of the country’s healthcare system.
- The maintenance of social distancing and quarantine facilities will be difficult as the menace of fake news ensues in the rural areas. Already there is a confusion in urban areas too about guidelines of quarantine and social distancing. The rural local governance systems are not equipped enough-financially and human resource wise-to handle the health crisis of this enormous nature.
- The migrant labor is facing hunger and threat to life due to lockdown and lockdown-induced migration. The Aurangabad train accident incident was a rude wakeup call.
- The future is uncertain for these returning laborers, as the lockdown has been extended till 31st May and its fate is still uncertain as the new infections are only on the rise.
- There will be pressure on the public distribution system as there will be a huge demand rise in food. If the FCI stocks are not released soon, the problem of hunger will be unbearable.
- The states which are receiving huge migrations don’t have industries and other employment opportunities. The unemployment scenario is sure to worsen.
- There is potential of wage rates tumbling down due to enormous incoming of the labor in the home states. In contrast, the wage rates will possibly rise in the industrial states.
- There will be a shortage of skilled labor force in the industrial areas for some time now as the migrated labor will not return soon.
- In green revolution areas and plantation areas, agriculture largely depends on migrant labor. As the large exodus has been going on, the states face a shortage of experienced farm labor.
- The agricultural home states where there already is a problem of disguised unemployment, the reverse migration will only increase the stress on agriculture.
- The economy is in a downward spiral due to the suspension of economic activities.
- Even if the lockdown ends in the near future, there will not be any sudden returning back of this homebound population.
- In this scenario, industries will face a shortage of manpower. The skilled manpower shortage can hinder the starting of production activities, in turn hindering the kickstarting of the economy.
- Social impacts
- The social tensions that will ensue due to economic stress can create regional law and order issues.
- There is a risk of negation of the success of years of poverty alleviation measure as large population will be thrown back into poverty.
- The state governments, out of sheer desperation to have some revenue coming, are turning to the opening of liquor shops during the lockdown period.
- The desperate measures like these have seeds of increased crimes, social disharmony, issues in the families, etc.
- There is a possibility of juveniles permanently dropping out of school and being engaged in work or illegal activities.
How did the government respond to the migrant crisis?
- Initial response
- The initial response of the central and state governments was haphazard and under-satisfactory.
- Initially, the governments only focused on making lockdown successful, and almost neglected the migrants walking home. On March 27, the Home Ministry issued a notification to the states to ensure that the migrants would not move during the lockdown.
- The state governments of migrant’s native wee wary of taking the huge influx and looked to seal the state borders.
- The result was the deadlock at the state borders with migrants left hungry and stranded and the local governments left with the responsibility of taking care of them without any financial means.
- The states suspended inter-state transport. This led to a huge wave of migrant laborers walking on roads bound to native states.
- Coming to terms with the situation
- States were permitted to use the National Disaster Relief Fund for providing food and shelter to the migrant workers.
- Local administrations issued sweeping orders that the landlords should not demand rent during the period of lockdown and employers should pay wages without deductions.
- The National Migrant Information system, an online database was created by the NDMA, to help streamline the movement of migrants.
- Transport Arrangements
- Some transport arrangements were made initially by some states like Uttar Pradesh.
- The Railways department started Shramik Express special Trains to take stranded migrant people home.
- The issue of charging fare for the Shramik express was criticized for insensitivity.
- The government has now opened the domestic flights.
- The ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ has been launched to bring stranded Indians in Foreign lands
- Relief measures
- PM Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) was employed to secure food supply to the migrants as it assured free food grains and other necessities for three months.
- The Building and other construction workers welfare Cess Fund was created of worth 31000 crore rupees.
- The MGNREGS average daily wages have been increased to Rs. 202 from earlier Rs. 182.
- A Part of PM CARES Fund was allocated for the support of migrant workers.
- Under Atmanirbhar Bharat Scheme, the MGNREGS allocation was increased by 40,000 crores. This will help in creating employment opportunities for migrants in their home states.
- Policy measures
- Many states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab have taken labor reform measures.
- The working regulations have been eased under the reforms to attract investment in these regions with a lack of industrialization.
What are the issues regarding the relief measures?
- The Shramik Express trains are not enough to take migrants home speedily.
- These trains are charging ticket fairs. Payment of these ticket fairs is not possible for most of the laborers who have left home with nothing in their pockets.
- There is a widespread criticism over relief measures and financial outlay as it is not enough to take care of the migrant workers for long.
- The labor law reforms have been criticized for taking away the protection of labors. There is a sense of lack of dignity due to easing of regulatory and welfare measures of labor laws.
- Even the International Labour Organization has requested the government the uphold the international commitments made by India regarding human rights.
- The Supreme Court has admitted that the problems of the migrant population have not being solved effectively. It has ordered the central and state governments to provide for the immediate necessities of the migrants.
- The Supreme Court also has been criticized for neglecting the plight of the migrant workers by not upholding their fundamental rights.
- The politicization of relief work isn’t helping either. There is a lack of foolproof communication between the Central government and the states regarding the number of migrants moving out of states by trains and many more issues.
- The migrant workers are the basic builders of the national economy as they provide cheap labor, skilled and experienced workforce to the industry, agriculture, and the gig economy.
- The governments need to come up with a detailed plan only focused on measures to bring migrant life to normalcy.
- The central government can keep aside more money from the PM CARES Fund and through other fiscal and monetary measures, it can increase the capacities of the states to cope up with the migrant crisis.
- The states must be cautious when it comes to labor reforms so that the cure should not become worse than the disease.
- The FCI must transfer its excess grain stored to the demand hotspots so that there is no hunger and starvation in the states which are taking migrant incomings.
- The ‘one nation-One Ration Card’ Program must be implemented as early as possible.
- The social security responsibilities can be taken over by the government so that the industries can cope with the financial pressures and will not then cut jobs.
- The health insurance coverage penetration should be increased on war-footing so that the migrant population gets free and timely healthcare.
- The States too must work along and shed politicization so that the issues of migrants do not fall prey to political issues.
- Some experts believe that the Pandemic is a blessing in disguise as it gives India a chance to tackle regional disparities.
- The de-congestion of overpopulated cities can be achieved if the less industrialized states are given an opportunity to raise their industry footfall through ‘Make in India’.
- The Skilling of the local workforce can be done to tackle labour shortage through the ‘Skill India Mission’.
India has a huge workforce that migrates for better opportunities. This migrant workforce is the real nation builder as it provides skilled foot-soldiers for the developmental activities. The Pandemic provides a golden opportunity to look into the larger issues of this section of the society. After the immediate measures, policy decisions must be taken to solve the outstanding issues of this section and minimize conditions that force migration and localize employment generation opportunities.
Practice Question for Mains
The COVID-19 Pandemic has exposed fault lines in the social sector of India. Critically analyze with respect to the recent migrant crisis. (250 words)