For more than few decades, India has seen workers migrating from state to state looking for job opportunities and livelihood. Covid -19 pandemic has scathed migrant labour to a great extent with less than Rs.100 in hand in span of 50 days. We have heard of trudging in snow, but not trudging on railway tracks and highways in conglomeration of people.  Question unanswered here is why do they want to move. Is it pressure from home or fear of job recovery after lockdown? Is it Government or profit earning enterprises or unaccounted migrant labour to be blamed for the unforeseen circumstances they are put through? Migrant labours are seen everywhere, right from road side chat shop to big industries, from rickshaw wala to truck drivers, yet no one imagined that migrant workers are such big group and can create chaos in the county.

Government did not visualize this problem and corporates did not expect they would go back to their home state.  Government and policy makers grossly underestimated the strength of migrant labours in Indian economy and never recognized their contribution to GDP and did not acknowledge the quantum of migrant labours. Nearly 500 million migrant labours are moving across the country from place to place, earn their income and send back to family. Data interprets that 8 out of 10 labours are not paid during lockdown period despite Government insisting on it. Human Resource Ministry should instigate more research study on this line. It is an eye opener to Policy makers, Government and Corporates that migrants cannot be taken for granted. We need to systemize and regularize moving labour force.

Smart Country cannot be a realty without labour migrating to the cities. Question still debated is if the departing state, the hailing state or the centre who is going to laydown procedure for managing migrant labours. Will these labours return to work once curtain of locked down are removed? Answer seems to be a big no. It is anticipated that distance and migration will be linked. Migrant from North-East may not come to Kanya Kumari or Goa to work due to distance factor. Actual punishment is to the employers who failed to protect them. Government relief measure for industries and MSME should be partially transferred to labour force by employers to bring back the strength. Question for public opinion here is

  1. Will migrant labours come back to the cities?
  2. Will they get their job again in the same place?
  3. Is there any relief from Government for rehabilitation and re-migrating the labours?
  4. What labour laws are applicable to unorganized sector in which migrant labours are employed?
  5. Will Government Come out with future plan for regulating migration within country with support of counsel or regulatory board?

There are so many unanswered questions and this demands for a strategic planning from State and Central Government on how the chaos can be regulated before we get into next disastrous situation.

Pema Choden Bhutia is a Research Scholar at Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai. Email: pema@mids.ac.in


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