COVID-19: ‘Only a third of migrant workers getting relief measures’

At least 50 mln short-term circular migrants left out of any government identification process, according to IHD estimates

By Shagun
Published: Monday 04 May 2020
Migrant labourers in India: Photo: Shutterstock

Relief measures introduced in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic are able to reach only a third of the country’s total migrant workers, according to an estimate by Institute of Human Development (IHD).

It added that at least 50 million short-term circular migrants had been left out of any government identification process.

The estimates, collated over a period, were released at a webinar hosted by IHD on May 2, 2020.

According to an affidavit filed by the Centre in Supreme Court recently, over 41.4 million migrants were impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak according to last census figures.

IHD, however, claimed the projected numbers were a gross underestimation of the actual figures.

The census only enumerated a few long-term or permanent migrants, according to Ravi Srivastava, director, Centre for Employment Studies, IHD.

“It draws a line. It took migrants who lived in an area for six months or more into account. Many short-term or circular migrants were left out,” he said.

He added that there were only a few estimates on circular migrants such as the National Sample Survey (NSS) of 2007-08, which estimated 15.2 million short-duration migrants in the country.

“These are gross underestimates. We used a sector-by-sector assessment and estimated the number of short-duration circular migrants at 45-50 million. Of these, over 10 million were agricultural labourers,” he said.

Talking about the Rs 1.7 lakh crore-package in relief measures announced by the Union government, Srivastava said, “Garib Kalyan Yojana is bereft of any understanding on the pandemic impact on migrant labour community. There was increased scope of shelter and food, but it could reach only a third of migrant workers.”

The IHD also estimated the number of vulnerable migrants among semi-permanent and permanent migrants. Using 2011 census figure and extrapolating it till 2020, it identified migrant workers as ‘vulnerable’ based on their consumption and occupational status.

The projected number of vulnerable migrant workers ranges from 55.9 million to 69.1 million.

Describing circular migrants as ‘nowhere citizens’, Srivastava said such workers had no citizenship in destination places and weak citizenship in source areas, which led to their socio-political and economic exclusion and discrimination. He said:

We now see how little government and employers know about this massive section of the workforce and how policy has ignored them and worked to their detriment.

The social security schemes for the poor, which otherwise have a significantly large ambit, are ridden with holes.

“The Draft Code on Social Security, 2018, was based on a universal approach. But the final bill abandoned this approach in favour of a segmented social security. The Bill has to be thoroughly reviewed in light of the lessons from the pandemic,” he said.

He flagged issues such as universal registration, minimum level of universal social security entitlement and complete portability.

IHD also argued that in the light of the pandemic, the Bill on the Code on Occupational Health and Safety and Working Conditions, which is already in the Parliament, should be scrapped in its present form.


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