India wakes up to its migrant population marching on roads, covering a journey of miles just to reach the places, safer for survival. "The process of animals travelling to a different place, usually for survival", "the process of people travelling to a new place to live, usually in large numbers". Amongst these two definitions, one could put the case of migrants in either category, specifically in the Indian context.
In less than six months, ever since the first coronavirus case was reported in China's Wuhan, the pandemic outbreak in India has spread to almost all states and union territories, infecting more than 600,000 people. On March 25th, PM Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the further spread. This announcement came with some gruesome consequences.
The closure of factories, industries owing to the Nationwide lockdown, forced millions of workers to struggle for bare minimum subsistence. Lack of daily wages, shortage of food compelled many to march to roads, not for protest, but to walk back to their villages, walk back to their homes.
FACTUAL ANALYSIS: COMPULSION OR CHOICE
Most of the migrant population in the country hail from the states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. The cities of Mumbai and Delhi attract the highest number of migrants. While most men migrate for work, women migrate as part of their marital duties. These workers mainly comprise daily wage labourers working in the manufacturing and construction industries. They are often denied adequate basic rights as enshrined in labour laws such as adequate healthcare, nutrition, housing, and sanitation.
The reasons for migration could be seen from two perspectives. Firstly, growth and better opportunities allure people to migrate to urban areas. Secondly, these are the people who are generally landless in their native villages & towns. This baggage compels them to migrate to metro cities in search of livelihood.
Thirty-six hours after the lockdown announcement, the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitaraman announced a relief package worth $24.4 billion and accompanying measures to alleviate the adverse impact of the ongoing crises on the vulnerable segments of the population. The decision to provide relief to "80 crores poor Indians" under Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), aiming to provide food security via the government's public distribution system (PDS), and social security benefits including cash-based aid via Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) came as a stimulus to the despairing hopes. But these were the instantaneous initiatives taken by the government to handle the crisis situation. In fact, the Indian government doesn't have any law for the protection and welfare of internal migrants. Most of the rights given to this section of society are covered under the labour laws, which come with major loopholes.
The Way Forward
Addressing these issues would be a good starting point for the government in its efforts to support migrant workers. Migrant workers must be brought under the aegis of state-level social protection schemes by (temporarily) lifting domicile restrictions. There is an immediate need to step up the efforts to identify migrants, by leveraging social networks and local organizations that work with migrant workers. On the systemic level, this calls for increased visibility of migrant labour through improved documentation as well as amendments to existing regulations. The crisis has also raised some interesting questions about crisis-induced migration trends. The current crisis has raised pertinent questions on the impact of reverse migration on the rural economy, changes in remittance flows, and household finance dynamics.