A change in migrant policy-THE HINDU-22-04-2020


Besides addressing the immediate distress conditions of migrants, the state needs to think of long-term solutions.

Seasonal migration is one of the most critical issues of our time. The condition of seasonal migrants has emerged as no less an important issue than the novel coronavirus itself.

Why migrants occupy centre stage:

While we continue to see episodes of such exodus, now there are new narratives of mass exodus caused by demonetisation, violence against migrants, and the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The number of migrants in Bihar is estimated to be close to 10 million, of which three million may be inter-State migrants. The months of February and March are a lean season for rural-to-rural migration, yet the current figure of inter-State seasonal migrants stands at about 1.4 million. Further, if we take the example of the National Capital Region, where, as the data suggest, 20% of Bihari migrants are working, we are referring to 0.28 to 0.3 million seasonal migrants. One of the biggest challenges after the lockdown is lifted will be to bring back the migrants to kickstart these sectors.

Third, the return of migrants brings to the source States an economic shock as there are no compensatory sources of livelihood.

Fourth, in the case of epidemics, the exodus of seasonal migrants creates apprehensions about the spread of the disease and runs counterproductive to the very purpose of a lockdown. Working from home or getting paid leave is largely a middle-class luxury. A considerable number of workers live within the manufacturing units or at work sites. Any lockdown results in loss of their accommodation too.

Fifth, the pathetic working and living conditions of migrants defy the very idea of decent work and general security.

Delivering relief packages:

Those migrants who are unable to return home and are not ration cardholders in the cities where they are stationed will not benefit from additional free foodgrains under the PDS. They cannot avail of increased MGNREGA wages until they go back home. As many seasonal migrants are landless or marginal farmers, they will not benefit from the grant to landholders. Neither will they get benefits under the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board because of low registration.

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