Unlocking the Urban: Reimagining Migrant Lives in Cities Post-COVID 19


Unlocking the Urban: Reimagining Migrant Lives in Cities Post-COVID 19 is a report released by Aajeevika Bureau (an organisation working with migrant workers in Gujarat and Rajasthan) in April 2020. The report explores the experiences of exclusion faced by ‘circular migrants’ employed in the informal labour markets of Ahmedabad and Surat. It states that the “…catastrophic results of the lockdown only exposed and aggravated glaring gaps in India’s public provisioning and employment systems, which has, for decades, systematically excluded and extracted migrant workers to facilitate economic growth.”

The report considers ‘circular migrants’ as those that move between ‘urban work destinations’ and their villages in rural areas, without settling in the cities where they are employed. Such migration includes movements that are short or long term; over short or long distances; by men, women or children and “…single or family-based.” The report presents the result of a study conducted through surveys , focus group discussions and interviews in Ahmedabad and Surat.

The report opens with an introduction (Chapter I) and in the rest of the chapters covers: ‘Locating Circular Migrants in India’s Urban Growth and Governance Processes’ (Chapter II); the method of conducting the study (Chapter III); data collected during the study (Chapter IV); ‘Circularity, Temporary Claim Making and Mobile Citizenship’ (Chapter V); an examination of the State’s policies (Chapter VI) and ‘Potential Pathways for Migrant-Inclusive Urban Governance’ (Chapter VII).


  1. The ‘Gujarat Model of Development’, states the report, has been lauded as a success story for neoliberal reforms and an example for the rest of India. The state has large capital investments in power supply, ports, jetties, roads, industrial estates and parks, and has over fifty special economic zones. It fares much lower on indicators of social and economic inclusion as compared to other states. The report notes that “The Gujarat Model of Development provides a prime example of urban growth accompanied by deepening socio-economic inequalities.”

  2. According to a survey on circular migrants that covered 285 people in Ahmedabad, 70 per cent of them did not treat their drinking water or used a simple cloth filter to remove large stones or sand, making them susceptible to water-borne illnesses. The survey’s respondents were employed in construction, manufacturing, hotels and dhabas, ‘headloading’ and domestic work.

  3. This study, based on the survey and discussions on circular migrants in Ahmedabad, found that women migrant workers were largely responsible for the daily collection and storage of water for their families.

  4. The report states that powerloom and textile production industries are the largest recruiters of migrant labour in Surat. The city is home to migrant workers from Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana. Migrant workers engaged in the powerloom industry in Surat – predominantly single males – live in extremely unhealthy conditions, mostly in crowded and shared ‘mess rooms’ in the industrial areas of Surat. The rooms are around 500 to 800 square feet, where over 100 workers “…live amid power cuts, filth and noise.”

  5. According to the survey on circular migrants in Ahmedabad, construction workers living onsite – largely Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe families – spend an average of 46 per cent of their income on food. The report states that Adivasi families living in factories spend an average of 29 per cent of their income on food and fuel – a lower proportion than headloaders, construction workers and domestic workers living onsite. It notes that a potential reason for this is that both male and female Adivasi workers chew tobacco, which is known to repress hunger, during the day to sustain themselves for continuous 12 to 16-hour shifts.

  6. The report quotes an International Labour Organisation report from 2003 in stating that 38 people die in the Indian construction sector every day.

  7. The survey on circular migrants in Ahmedabad found that only two of 285 respondents reported accessing urban health centres (UHCs) – small clinics providing free primary healthcare and linkages to public health schemes in each of the city’s wards. Of these, only one worker accessed a UHC in the last year.

  8. In Surat, 92 per cent of the 150 circular migrants surveyed reported using privately run facilities for healthcare – private hospitals, private clinics, ‘Bengali doctors’ (local practitioners) or directly approaching chemists’ shops – and 64 per cent reported that they had accessed private hospitals, ‘Bengali’ doctors or medical store chemists for their most recent treatment.

  9.  The study on circular migrants in Surat found that 40 of 71 children whose answers were recorded were of school-going age (6 to 14 years). Thirty per cent of the 71 children did not attend school, and seven of them were employed in trades such as “…stone sticking, bhim pachhad and roll polish.” Of these 71 children, 14 per cent were not immunised at all.

  10. In most urban development programmes, the report observes, individuals have to prove their domicile status in the city to be eligible for urban public services and entitlements. The survey on circular migrants in Surat found that 23 per cent of them had voter IDs, 31 per cent had Aadhaar cards, and 21 per cent had bank documents in the city. None of the 150 migrants surveyed had a ration card in Surat. The report states that there is an urgent need to adopt a ‘Universal Social Rights approach’ where access to entitlements is delinked from domicile status.

  11. The report notes that “…urban planning and policy needs to recognise migrants as a legitimate constituency within the larger category of urban citizens, with equal entitlement to public provisioning and services.”

    Focus and Factoids by Aakanksha.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Aajeevika Bureau, Rajasthan


Aajeevika Bureau, Rajasthan


Apr, 2020