Migrants are one of the important driving wheels of the Indian Economy. India’s Construction industry, Manufacturing, transportation sectors are major employers of these workers and it is because of them these sectors keep on moving. Although, they play an important role and contribute towards India’s growth, very little is being done for their well-being. The term migrant workers have long been associated with the people moving from rural to urban areas. But, if one goes into the detail of the entire migration process and migrant workers, a different scenario also comes out. Data given by the National Sample Survey in 2007-08 revealed that about 28.3% of India’s workforce comprises migrant workers. According to the census of 2011, there were 454 million migrants in the country which rose by 139 million from 315 million in 2001. The association of migrant workers with the movement of individuals from rural to urban areas might be because it takes around 22.1% of the share of all the migrants. But a detailed study of the data presented by the Report of The Working Group of Migration under the aegis of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation presents a different picture. According to the census, the migration of people from rural to rural areas accounted for 47.4% and was followed by urban to urban migration at 22.6% (according to the census, 2011).
These rural to urban migrants, who work mostly in unorganized sectors were out of work and money in their new home during the nationwide lockdown, thanks to Corona Virus. As the period of lockdown increased, the patience of these workers suffered a major jolt. The immediate result of this was, various clashes with security personnel’s in different parts of the country and this resulted in the demands of bringing back them to their native places. Indian railways started plying special trains with ‘Shramik Express’ to ferry stranded people back to their homes.
The homecoming of these workers will present their employer states with a crunch of the labor force and will in turn adversely impact the various industries which depend on them. Karnataka and Haryana government even requested the workers to stay and avoid traveling to their native places. But with the chances of industries to start up soon looking bleak and further distress faced by them concerning food and money, they remained adamant about their demands. The challenges faced by their native states are also not less. With the coming back of people in large numbers from various COVID hotspots, they face an additional risk of preventing the spread of disease.
With the spread of disease and the implementation of lockdown, the ferrying of workers was a very commendable step that was undertaken by the government. However, the time they took to reach this decision can still be debated. The people blaming the states and central government for delay in evacuating them need to understand that the parent state of these workers need to have a proper infrastructure in place to cope up with the sudden influx of people in large numbers, and this infrastructure is not developed in a day when the entire country is already facing various shortages. The problems with the employer states will be visible when the lockdown is lifted and all activities will start taking place gradually. They will face a labor shortage in running their industries and projects and getting the heartbroken laborers back won’t be an easy task. For this, they will have to provide some incentives to attract and provide a comfortable environment for them by winning their trust. The states who are bringing them back need to be ready and put in detailed measures to prevent the spread of disease in their states and most importantly to the rural areas they will go back. Most importantly, people need to stop stereotyping migrant workers with people who move from rural to urban areas in search of better jobs or other facilities. This is a small way to give them respect, as they are an important lot who work for uplifting India’s economy.
3) Report of The Working Group on Migration, Published by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation in January 2017.