The emergence of the COVID-19 crisis challenged not only humans but also the sustainability of many institutions around the world. Many nations are still grappling to cope up with the deadly effect of COVID-19. Many large economies have come to a halt. The world is on the verge of a global recession. Amidst all this chaos, India faced an additional challenge of migration of laborers. Due to the enforcement of lockdown, lakhs of migrants lost their jobs. This loss of employment led to a mass migration wherein millions of migrants started the journey to their parent states on their feet. Many of them were seen bicycling too. According to the World Economic Forum, there are about 139 million internal migrants across the nation.
The movement of humans from one place of residence to another is known as migration. Humans migrate due to various social, economic, political, or environmental reasons. These reasons are known as push and pull factors. Push factors are the causes that lead to people fleeing a place. These factors include unemployment, draughts, floods, etc.
Some factors attract people; usually positive reasons such as a better standard of living, employment opportunities, education, etc. These factors are known as Pull factors.
Reasons for migration in India
Marriage is the most significant reason of migration in India. It is a social factor of migration. As per the Census 2011, 46% of the total migrants moved because of their marriage. Amongst the total marriage migrants, 97% were women. Further, 70% (20.58 cr) of the total women (29.3 cr) married migrated.
Most of the rural areas in India still lack proper educational infrastructure. There is an unavailability of higher educational facilities. Due to such reasons, the rural population tends to migrate towards urban areas.
Another concern is regarding the scarcity of jobs and opportunities for earning a livelihood in rural regions. Most of these people settle down in urban regions. According to census 2011, 10.22% of the total migrants migrated due to employment.
Security and natural reasons
Humans like to live a comfortable and secure life. Due to political, social, and natural reasons, people may feel unsecured. This insecurity leads to people leaving their places of residence. Earthquakes, floods, droughts, etc. are some of the natural reasons leading to migration. Political reasons include inter-ethnic clashes, riots, and wars.
There are both positive and negative outcomes of migration.
The migration allows a large supply of workers in large demand areas. This provides for cheap labor for employers and more employment opportunities for workers. This strengthens the weaker sections of the society and results in more public expenditure in various sectors and better quality of life. The availability of work also enhances the skill of workers around the country.
Migration results in the political exclusion of the migrants, as they are not always able to take part in political affairs such as voting. Mass migration creates large clusters of the population, creating huge pressure on the natural resources and other services of a particular area. It creates employment competition and eventually leads to exploitation of illiterate and under-skilled migrants. Mass migration is also one of the factors in increasing the slums in urban areas.
Challenges for the Migrants and the Government
The inclusion and integration of migrants in the receiving states is very crucial. Unfortunately, there exists a negative view of migration in India that leads to a lack of inclusion and integration of these workers. The migrant workers are treated unacceptably by the employers. Lack of education of migrant laborers makes them very vulnerable to exploitation by their employers. Most of the migrant workers are underpaid as compared to other workers at the workplace. They are also forced to work for longer working hours than normal.
As India is culturally very diverse and language changes every 50-100 km, a migrating person also faces the challenge of a language barrier and adapting to the cultural change. This may create psychological stress in the minds of the migrants.
Governments need to address these issues to ensure the mental and physical safety of the migrant workers. Many governments have been taking steps in the right direction, but they have been inadequate in their efforts.
Apart from this, governments should ensure local employment opportunities to avoid excessive migration. This will allow us to properly manage the resources and services.
Measures taken by the Government
Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Directives and Relief camps
On 22nd March 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a Nationwide Lockdown. This resulted in millions of people stranded in various locations in India. The MHA issued directions to the State Governments to avoid the movement of such stranded migrants. To ensure this, the State Governments were allowed to use their National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) to provide basic amenities such as food and shelter to the migrants. In response, various State Governments set-up relief camps for providing food and shelter for the migrants. Around 12.5 lakh migrants were moved to 28000 relief camps, and 75 lakh people were provided food by 5th April 2020.
The MHA order included directions for landlords to not demand rent from migrants and students. The order also stated directions for the employers to pay wages without any deduction, which was later withdrawn.
National Migrant Information System (NMIS)
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) developed an online database of migrants named the National Migrant Information System (NMIS), which was launched on 16th May 2020. This will facilitate the states to access real-time data of migrants across the nation.
Transporting the migrants
According to the statement of Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta in the Supreme Court, around 91 lakh migrants have been transported to their parent states using Shramik special trains and buses.
Shramik Special Trains
On 1st May 2020, the Indian Railways started Shramik Special trains on special routes for stranded migrants, students, etc. Initially, the service was not free. But after objections were raised from the opposition, the Central Government decided that they will subsidize 85% of the ticket cost and the State Governments will bear the remaining cost of a 15% subsidy on the travel fare. There was a lot of confusion regarding the fare of Shramik Special trains. Later the Central Government clarified that they were not paying for the Shramik Special trains in the Supreme Court. The Central Government also admitted that the fares were paid by the sending and the receiving states.
State Government Buses
The Uttar Pradesh Government initially arranged 1000 buses for the migrants stranded in Delhi from the Anand Vihar bus station. Lakhs of migrants gathered at this station, and it was impossible to ensure social distancing, endangering the lives of millions of migrants. Many other State Governments like Bihar, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra arranged buses for migrants and students. Around 40 lakh migrants were transported using buses till May 27.
Apart from all the above measures, the Government also declared some relief packages. Initially, the Government declared a 1.7 lakh crore rupee package targeting the poor in India. This package included direct cash transfers and food security measures. Later, as per the statement of the Joint Secretary in the Union Home Ministry, a total of 11,092 crore rupees were granted to States and UTs under the NDRF for arranging food and shelter for the migrants.
On 12th May 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a huge 20 lakh crore rupees package, which included a scheme of granting free food grains to stranded migrant workers and farmers for two months.
It also included indirect measures for migrant workers like strengthening the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sectors for providing better employment options for the migrant workers. A sum of 1000 crore rupees is also allocated from the PM Cares Fund for the welfare of the migrant workers by the government.
Recently, the government has also launched a Mega Employment scheme amounting to 50,000 crore rupees for the migrant workers who returned to their parent states due to COVID-19. This scheme will be focusing on 116 districts.
Intervention by the Supreme Court
A petition was filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of the migrant workers on 30th March 2020. The Supreme Court asked the government to submit a status report on the measures taken by them in the light of mass migration of workers. The court also agreed to not issue any directions to the government to avoid more confusion. Later, a status report was submitted by the Central Government. It blamed media outlets for spreading fear and panic amongst people, which lead to the migrant exodus. The report also claimed that the Government has set up 21,064 relief camps. According to it, around 6,66,291 people have been provided with shelter, and 22,88,279 people have been provided food in these relief camps. The bench comprising Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde and Justice L. Nageswara Rao was satisfied with the report and measures taken by the Government.
On 26th May 2020, the Supreme Court took suo-moto cognizance of the media reports and directed the Central and the State Governments to provide food, shelter, and transport for free to the migrant workers. The court also admitted that there have been inadequacies in the measures taken by the governments in dealing with the migrant crisis in India.