Voices of the Invisible Citizens II: One year of COVID-19 – Are we seeing shifts in internal migration patterns in India?
Migrants Resilience Collaborative, an initiative by the non-governmental organisation Jan Sahas, released this report in June 2021. It follows an initial report – Voices of the Invisible Citizens: A Rapid Assessment on the Impact of the COVID-19 Lockdown on Internal Migrant Workers – released by the organisation in April 2020. The report aims to map shifts in patterns of internal migration in the country during the pandemic.
The report also assesses various social security measures undertaken by the government and other organisations to aid migrants during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to compiling data from secondary sources, the report interviewed 2,342 migrants – during the first week of April 2021 – in the ‘source districts’ of Banda, Hazaribagh, Mahbubnagar and Tikamgarh. The ‘destination states’ comprised of Delhi/National Capital Region, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Additional data was drawn from 10 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the Bundelkhand region. This was collected during two periods: between September 2019 and March 2020, and from September 2020 to March 2021.The 42-page document consists of six sections: Key Recommendations to Build the Resilience of Migrant Families (Section 1); Introduction (Section 2); Patterns of Migration (Section 3); Patterns of Work (Section 4); Access to Social Security (Section 5); and Efforts to Protect Migrants Workers (Section 6).
The report notes that 57 per cent of the surveyed migrant workers reported a decrease in migration over the past 12 months. This was due to the fear of contracting the virus (71 per cent), unavailability of jobs (54 per cent) and the fear of suddenly imposed lockdowns (47 per cent). Just eight percent of the respondents said they did not migrate as they found employment in their native places.
Overall, 73 per cent of workers (75 per cent of women and 72 per cent of men) said they found it more difficult to secure jobs after the pandemic. Of those who preferred to move within their home state, about 87 per cent experienced difficulties in finding employment. Migration among women workers also dropped in 2020 and 2021, the report notes.
As many as 55 per cent of the respondents felt that people were migrating for shorter durations than before the pandemic. As per the report, women workers were more likely to respond in this manner.
The survey showed a preference among the workers for migration across states. Migrants at both source and destination locations – 54 per cent and 45 per cent respectively – preferred to work outside their home states. Workers from Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes preferred to move for work within their districts.
Around 44 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men preferred inter-state migration.
Of the workers surveyed, 43 per cent felt that migrant workers, after the pandemic, were no longer moving along with their families or other dependents. On the other hand, 33 per cent reported that the situation remained the same as the period before Covid-19.
Approximately 37 per cent of respondents felt that prevalence of bonded labour had remained the way it was prior to the pandemic. Roughly, 28 per cent reported that it had decreased since the pandemic while 14 per cent stated that incidence of bonded labour had risen.
As many as nine out of every 25 workers stated that wages had decreased in the months following the pandemic. The report adds that although 40 per cent of the respondents reported that the wage rate had remained unchanged, the amount of work available had fallen. This eventually meant lower incomes.
About 88 per cent respondents were aware of various social security schemes available. However, the report highlights, these were usually short-term schemes for support during emergencies as opposed to schemes ensuring long-term social security.
The report notes that provisions under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, were poorly implemented. Inadequate registration of migrant workers proved a barrier in reaching out to such workers and ensuring their welfare, it adds.
The report suggests that the government should ensure inter-state portability and effective implementation of welfare schemes, especially during times of crisis. Further, it suggests that regulations may be relaxed to let people avail of necessary schemes even in the absence of required documents.
Other recommendations include strengthening relief measures that are already in place and ensuring the safety of migrants by making provisions for quarantine facilities. The report also argues for an increase in minimum wages alongside legal support and grievance addressal systems.
Focus and Factoids by Abizar Shaikh.
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.
Aarya Venugopal, Parvathy J, Evlyn Samuel and Ameena Kidwai
Jan Sahas, New Delhi; Edel Give Foundation, Mumbai; Global Development Incubator