Home » THE PLIGHT OF MIGRANT WORKERS AMIDST LOCKDOWN
THE PLIGHT OF MIGRANT WORKERS AMIDST LOCKDOWN
GS 2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
India’s strict lockdown measures, such as severing transport links, have taken a toll on the nation’s estimated 100 million migrant workers, triggering an exodus from cities where they worked in garment factories, building sites and brick kilns. The government announced a $23 billion aid package to help the poor, including migrant workers, but relief has been patchy across the vast country.
Soon after the lockdown was first announced, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from different parts of the country were seen leaving their places of work and travelling to their native places on foot along with family members. To check this mass exodus, the central government had asked all states to provide food and shelter to the migrant workers so that they do not move during the lockdown. The lockdown in India has impacted the livelihoods of a large proportion of the country's nearly 40 million internal migrants. Around 50,000–60,000 moved from urban centers to rural areas of origin in the span of a few days.
A staggering 77% of India’s workforce (3 out 4 workers) falls under the category of vulnerable employment (World Bank, 2019). One of the largest and most vulnerable workforces of India are seasonal migrants – workers who migrate temporarily. Providing informed assessments or drawing strong conclusions about migrant workers is difficult because of data constraints. Figures for seasonal migrants vary from 15.2 million to 55 million.
The increase in migration globally has been traced back to the widening gap between agriculture and non-agriculture sectors along with the growth in unequal distribution of resources and economic opportunities across regions. The scenario is not different in India, as seasonal migration is largely distress driven - geographically, they are from rain-fed agriculture areas and majority of them are landless or small/marginal farmers who have no livelihood opportunities available post the kharif crop harvest. Seasonal migration is often a response strategy to this crisis of lack of job opportunities and the need to earn basic income for subsistence. These migrants are more likely to be socially deprived and poor while having obtained little to no education, with minimal or no assets. Seasonal migrants, thereby, are placed in a situation where they become extremely desperate to find employment and migration provides them with greater economic prospects, which in turn provides sustenance to the workers and their families. However, it exposes these individuals to harsh and vulnerable situations where work and living conditions are extremely poor. The vulnerability of migrants is compounded by their caste identity with majority of them belonging to categories such as Other Backward Castes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe, as caste determines ability to accumulate wealth, income and remittance level.
The government measures
Since the lockdown, the central government has announced several welfare measures for those whose lives have been severely impacted by the lockdown. Although the welfare measures taken have been a welcome step towards the right direction, the true effectiveness of these schemes in responding to the crisis can only be witnessed over time. However, it is important to note here that the announced measures still largely fail to address the concerns of the many daily wage migrant labourers who are either stuck in destination sites without employment or access to PDS entitlements in cities or labourers who do not have adequate ration in their own villages. Media reports from across India have highlighted the loss of livelihoods and income of seasonal migrants.
What can be done?
Take the lead in coordinating with all states to ensure that there is parity in the economic relief measures that are being announced at State level and the disparities do not create newer hierarchies of poverty and discrimination.
Devise mechanisms in consultation with researchers and experts on multiple options of ensuring that economic benefits reach the intended beneficiaries in a time sensitive manner. This involves flexibility in options of availing economic relief either through Jan Dhan accounts, Aadhar identification and cash payment at doorstep using Gram Panchayat and postal offices.
Although the Centre has raised the wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) by `20, from `182 to `202 a day, labourers would not be able to gain benefits from this since the worksites will not be functional due to the lockdown. The scheme has 128 million active labourers and it must be ensured all of them are paid full wages for lost days.
The general practise of considering the male member of the family as the sole and default breadwinner, render female labourers belonging to the household invisible. It must be ensured that women labourers do not lose assistance they are entitled to, due to gender bias in counting
In consultation with the Centre, states must implement the National Disaster Management Plan that in spirit and action which allows for decentralised planning and response with clear channels of communication and responsibility, allowing for the cultural and regional diversities to be accommodated as opposed to a one size fit all solution.
It is recommended that the different levels of the state administration collaborate with TV channels, radio stations, online digital platforms and newspapers to create communication in local languages (as well as languages of major migrant workers) that inform the public not only about safety measures but also bridge information gaps that lead to rumour mongering and fake news. Regular state and national level bulletins and digital press conferences can also help improve the communication between the public and the governments.
Previous Year Questions
The concept of Mid Day Meal (MDM) scheme is almost a century old in India with early beginnings in Madras Presidency in pre-independent India. The scheme has again been given impetus in most states in the last two decades. Critically examine its twin objectives, latest mandates and success. (2013)
The Central Government frequently complains on the poor performance of the State Governments in eradicating suffering of the vulnerable sections of the society. Restructuring of Centrally sponsored schemes across the sectors for ameliorating the cause of vulnerable sections of population aims at providing flexibility to the States in better implementation. Critically evaluate (2013)
Electronic cash transfer system for the welfare schemes is an ambitious project to minimize corruption, eliminate wastage and facilitate reforms Comment. (2013)
The basis of providing urban amenities in rural areas (PURA) is rooted in establishing connectivity Comment. (2013)
Identify the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are related to health. Discuss the success of the actions taken by the Government for achieving the same. (2013)
Do government’s schemes for up-lifting vulnerable and backward communities by protecting required social resources for them, lead to their exclusion in establishing businesses in urban economies? (2014)
Two parallel run schemes of the Government, viz the Adhaar Card and NPR, one as voluntary and the other as compulsory, have led to debates at national levels and also litigations. On merits, discuss whether or not both schemes need run concurrently. Analyse the potential of the schemes to achieve developmental benefits and equitable growth. (2014)
Hunger and poverty are the biggest challenges for good governance in India still today. Evaluate how far successive governments have progressed in dealing with these humongous problems. Suggest measure for improvement. (2017)
The emergence of the self-help groups (SHGs) in contemporary times points to the slow but steady withdrawal of the state from development activities.” Examine the role of the SHGs in developmental activities and the measures taken by the Government of India to promote the SHGs. (2017)
There is a growing divergence in the relationship between poverty and hunger in India. The shrinking of social expenditure by the government is forcing the poor to spend more on non-food essential items squeezing their food-budget. Elucidate. (2019)
Performance of welfare schemes that are implemented for vulnerable sections is not so effective due to absence of their awareness and active involvement at all stages of policy process. Discuss. (2019)