21 Days and Counting: COVID-19 Lockdown, Migrant Workers, and the Inadequacy of Welfare Measures in India


On March 25, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of Covid-19. Two days later, on March 27, volunteers associated with the Right to Food Campaign (a network of individuals and organisations in India) and the Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sangathan (an organisation that works on accessing government programmes in Muzaffarpur, Bihar) formed the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) to respond to distress calls from migrant workers in different parts of India.

This report documents information collected from the calls of 640 groups of 11,159 stranded workers, up to April 13, 2020.

It discusses the demographic profile of the migrant workers, the need for food and monetary relief, the ‘Rate of Hunger and Distress’ and the ‘Rate of Relief’, the changing nature of distress among migrants and ‘Social Solidarity during the Lockdown-Induced Crisis’. It includes region-wise data on migrant workers for Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra, Haryana and Delhi, Punjab, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Bihar. 

It contains recommendations for the government on food security, wages and income support, social security, and shelter and transport facilities for four categories of migrant workers – those who have returned home, those who were trying to reach home but were stopped and sent to relief shelters, those who were trying to reach home but were stopped and are sleeping on roads and in public spaces, and those who have been living in ‘miserable conditions’ in the cities where they work.


  1. SWAN received calls related to 11,159 workers; of these 1,643 were women and children. About 28 per cent of the total were originally from Jharkhand, around a quarter were from Bihar and about 13 per cent were from UP. 

  2. SWAN noted the occupations of 3,900 migrant workers – of them, 79 per cent were daily wage factory or construction workers, 8 per cent were ‘non-group based’ daily wage earners such as drivers and domestic helpers, and 8 per cent were self-employed, such as vendors and zari workers.

  3. Till April 13, 2020, of 9,403 workers, 96 per cent had not received rations from the government and 70 per cent had not received any cooked food. None of the workers from UP had received any rations. As many as 80 per cent workers in Karnataka and 32 per cent in Punjab had no access to cooked food. 

  4. Of 291 groups of migrant workers in Maharashtra, 71 per cent had rations sufficient only for one day and 89 per cent said they would run out of rations within two days. In Karnataka, 36 per cent of 1,212 workers reported they had rations sufficient only for one day.

  5. In an order dated March 29, 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that all employers must pay their workers full wages during the lockdown. This report states that 89 per cent of 2,198 workers were not paid by their employers, and 9 per cent were paid partially. 

  6. The report observes that the percentage of migrant workers with less than a day of rations increased from 36.36 per cent on April 8 to 49.88 per cent on April 13, 2020 – a 14 percentage point increase, roughly.

  7. In the same period, the proportion of people getting government ration supplies increased only by 3 percentage points. The report states that people are becoming hungrier almost five times faster than the rate at which government ration supplies are reaching the needy.

  8. One in three of the 1,058 workers – including 233 women and children – who called from Delhi and Haryana received cooked food from the government or a local organisation. However, more than 82 per cent of them said they had rations only for two days.

  9. The report recommends that ration given through the public distribution system must be doubled for April, May and June. It should be provided for free through doorstep delivery. There is an urgent need to universalise access to food grains, pulses, cooking oil and soap, states the report, and to provide these irrespective of whether a family has a ration card or not.

  10. State governments must make arrangements for stranded workers to reach home safely, recommends the report. The central and state governments can jointly set up sanitised railway coaches and buses for these journeys.

    Focus and Factoids by Sruti Penumetsa.


Stranded Workers Action Network


Stranded Workers Action Network


15 Apr, 2020