Co-Written by Roli Misra & Nagendra Kumar Maurya

“Corona se mare na mare, bhook se zaroor mar jayega”(If I don’t die with Corona, I will surely die with hunger). These were the words of the carpenter who has been working in our house since last ten years. He had visited our place amidst the lockdown with his scary face. The poor man who was wearing a golden colored mask, had little understanding of how to take precautions, had been sitting in his dingy home waiting for this lockdown to get over. “Pata nahi kaisan beemari ayi hai sahab, log batate hain hawa mein bhi beemari fail gayi hai, hum to intezar kar raha hoon kab apne gaon wapas ja sakoon (Don’t know which kind of disease has come Sir, people are telling that this disease is even in the air, I am waiting when will I be able to go to my village). In every phase of lockdown he waited eagerly with hope that at least this time he will be allowed to move out and this hope is still continuing. He belongs to Azamgarh, had migrated a decade back to Lucknow in search of work. His wife and two sons live in a village in Azamgarh, his daughter is married to another migrant in Mumbai and he is here with his two sons. So divided family but hopes united that their economic life will be back to normal some day.

Not only this poor man but the world also never expected such a serious impact of any pandemic like Corona Virus Disease (Covid). No country in the world was ever prepared to tackle the situation arising out of this contagion pandemic. Although the earlier influenza pandemics were also unpredictable but their nature and ways of contamination had been different than this ongoing pandemic. Many countries had developed their Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plans (PIPPs) owing to earlier crisis, which aimed at guiding actions and investments to respond to such outbreak but no country was neither prepared for this novel breakdown and nor they had any systematic plan, medicine or vaccination to combat the spread and occurrence of this disease. However, migrants in no country found any place in any of the Pandemic Preparedness Plans.

Impact on the Migrants:

One policy measure which has been adopted by almost every affected nation of the world as a remedial measure to stop the spread of the Covid is partial or total lockdown of economy and curbing movement of people, (barring few exceptions). This lockdown impacted the livelihoods of a large proportion of the population especially the migrants who had moved from rural areas to urban economic centres due to their livelihood concern and generally form a part of informal economy. In the present crisis, all major economic activities were shut down and these migrant labourers were left to their own fate. The Covid outbreak has placed these migrant workers in challenging situation where they had a fear of losing their jobs along with their inability to return home due to disruption of public transport services and severe movement restrictions. With the sudden announcement of Lockdown in India, all these migrants got stranded, many of them decided to commute back to their places of origin on foot. The travel for them ranged from few hundred kilometers to more than thousand of kilometers. “ Meri behan, uska Pati aur chota bacha sab Dilli se Bhagalpur paidal chal kar 15 din mein apne gaon pahuch paye hain, par abhi kisi school mein rakha hai , pata nahi kyu, jabki sab test to sahi aye hain” (My sister, her husband and their small child all travelled for 15 days from Delhi to reach Bhagalpur on foot. Now they have been kept in some school, don’t know why, while all the tests are normal) opined my house- maid . She was wondering that why this migrant family is not been allowed to enter their own village. The anguish, helplessness and fear could be heard in her voice too. Not only for these migrants but the distress backward travel march of all these travelling  migrants was full of hunger, thirst, humiliation, breathlessness and for some even losing their lives in this desperate journey. They became more vulnerable to contagion risks and many of them became Covid carriers.

If we look at the statistics then, internationally US has been witnessing the maximum influx of migrants over years and it became the biggest hotspot of Covid cases. For instance, as per World Migration Report 2019, the USA (Rank 1), Germany (Rank 2) and France (Rank 4) are the top destinations and these countries are also bearing the severe impact of Corona virus which is responsible for the spread. At the national level, the most favoured destinations of migrants have been Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh respectively. Incidentally the top three states with maximum confirmed Covid cases are also in these states . According to the census data of 2011, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh together accounted for 50% of India’s total inter-state migrants. On the other side, Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana housed 50% of the country’s inter-state migrants. Interestingly, Uttar Pradesh figures in both lists reflecting most preferred state of in and out migrants. Such groups are at higher risk due to their limited access to health information, which leaves them with insufficient knowledge on how to prevent infectious diseases. It may be inferred that with movement of this floating population the risk of spreading of Covid or any such epidemic becomes severe and the origin and destination areas of migrants also become high risk zones.

What Next:

Given the quantum, spread and risk of the ongoing epidemic and future occurrences of epidemics it is imperative that the migrant population must be included in Pandemic Preparedness Plans (PPPs). It is important that state wise database of migrants needs to be updated regularly so as to understand the numbers and magnitude of movement. Accordingly, policies can be designed and implemented keeping the needs and risks involved with this floating population so that any future epidemic or calamity can be addressed without much difficulty. Since the psychological fear created by the Covid in the minds of the people is not going to disappear in near future, hence, what will be the fate of these migrants in coming time is uncertain. Will they go back to work at the place where they had been working in pre-lockdown state or will they look for another destination in the post lockdown scenario will be a challenge for these migrants, their employers and also for the government keeping in mind the post lockdown life and economy. These people themselves need to understand their own responsibilities towards themselves, their families and society by taking necessary hygiene precautions and continuing to follow the instructions given by the government, thus, accepting the New Normal till the life gets back to the Old Normal.

Roli Misra Associate Professor, Dept of Economics, University of Lucknow, Lucknow, email roli219@gmail.com.

Nagendra Kumar Maurya Assistant Professor, Dept of Applied Economics, University of Lucknow, Lucknow, email nagendrainsearch@gmail.com.


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