The Indian Catastrophe: MP Migrants' Crisis Amidst Covid-19


The Covid-19 outbreak put massive stress on the global healthcare infrastructure, causing majority of countries to enforce lockdowns and social distancing regulations. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the nationwide lockdown in March 2020 triggered an additional crisis: lakhs of migrant workers stranded without work or transport facilities across states.

This report examines the employment status and living conditions of migrant workers who returned to Madhya Pradesh during the lockdown as well as the government support extended to them. It was published in August 2021 by the Madhya Pradesh Migrant Volunteer Team, in collaboration with the Shivpuri-based Zenith Society for Socio-Legal Empowerment.

The report contains the results of a survey of 2,943 migrant workers – 92 per cent of whom are male – across 52 districts of MP. About 34 per cent of respondents were from the general category, 31 per cent were Other Backward Class (OBC), 15 per cent were Scheduled Caste (SC) and 15 per cent were from Schedule Tribes (STs). Roughly 83 per cent of respondents were between 15 and 34 years, and 45 per cent were between 25 and 34 years.

The 113-page publication contains six chapters: Demographical Information (chapter I); Pre-Covid Situation (chapter II); Transport, Quarantine & Registration (chapter III); Post Pandemic Details (chapter IV); Labour Legislations in India – Need for Reform (chapter V); and Migrant Stories: Tragedy and Hope Intertwined (chapter VI).


  1. Most surveyed migrants (64.26 per cent) cited loss of employment as the main reason for their return to MP after the lockdown, followed by Covid-19 fears (27.46 per cent). Job losses were the primary cause across categories of gender, age and income.

  2. Women in rural India and Dalits were the worst hit in the first month of India’s lockdown – 43 and 36 per cent of them reported losing jobs during that period. The report discusses the gendered impacts of the lockdown and a ‘feminisation of job losses’.

  3. About 80 per cent of 2,914 respondents did not possess job cards under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, or other state employment schemes. (MGNREGA aims to provide 100 days of paid work in a year to rural households in India.) Only 63 per cent had ration cards for buying grains at subsidised rates.

  4. Roughly 67 per cent of the female migrants had studied till fifth grade or below, and a third of them had not studied at all. In comparison, 5.43 per cent of males were not educated and 25.63 per cent had studied till fifth grade or below.

  5. Among SCs, 22.58 per cent women and 8.15 per cent men were not educated. This was also the case for 42.42 per cent of ST women and 7.1 per cent of men.

  6. About 44 per cent of 2,895 respondents were daily wage workers, 55 per cent earned fixed incomes, and one per cent had no fixed earning pattern. The share of women who earned daily wages was 12 per cent more than that of men. In comparison, the proportion of male respondents earning fixed incomes was 13 per cent higher than that of female workers.

  7. Before the pandemic, the daily wages were Rs. 300-350 for 22 per cent of 2,852 respondents, Rs. 350-400 for 21 per cent, and Rs. 400-500 for 19 per cent. About seven per cent of workers earned less than Rs. 250 and six per cent received more than Rs. 650.

  8. Only one per cent of the respondents were covered under MGNREGA or other employment schemes; 93.5 per cent of these were male and three per cent were female.

  9. Nearly half of the migrant workers were not provided with money, food, shelter or other support in their host states during the lockdown. Roughly 34 per cent received food and seven per cent got monetary support.

  10. Over half of 2,520 respondents did not possess smartphones, required for online registrations for interstate travel.

  11. About 12.5 per cent of those surveyed – 159 migrants – reported walking back to their villages in the absence of other transport options.

  12. On June 9, 2020, the Supreme Court mandated all states to maintain records of incoming migrant workers. The report says that 29 per cent of the surveyed migrants had not been asked for their details on reaching home. Out of 2,796 workers, 87 per cent denied having been contacted by government authorities for employment opportunities.

  13. Majority of respondents remained in their home states after the lockdown. More than half of those who chose to stay home and were employed earned Rs. 250 or less per day.

  14. The highest proportion (40 per cent) of those who returned to work in their host states earned Rs. 350 or less. Most people returned to these states for employment opportunities.

    Focus and Factoids by Kislay Pradhan.


Rakshita Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Niharika Tiwari, Lakshmi Menon, Saiyed Kamil and Shilpa Shankar of the Madhya Pradesh Migrant Volunteer Team; Zenith Society for Socio-Legal Empowerment, Shivpuri


Rakshita Agarwal and Rohit Sharma of the Madhya Pradesh Migrant Volunteer Team; Zenith Society for Socio-Legal Empowerment, Shivpuri


Aug, 2021