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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 35, New Delhi, August 15, 2020

Designing Strategies for Migrant Labour Livelihoods | N. Linga Murthy, S. Indrakant

Friday 14 August 2020

by N. Linga Murthy, S. Indrakant 

            Migrant labour in India is an important component of the unorganized, insecure and highly neglected unfortunate labour. Thanks to Covid-19, migrant labour is very much in the news. The time has come when we are forced to think about this neglected section of people in the country. The Indian model of development that had been adopted for the past few decades resulted in the lopsided development of our economy i.e, service sector overtaking both industrial and agricultural sectors. The growth of agricultural sector was not followed by sufficient expansion of industrial sector resulting in the growth of a dominant informal sector which has not provided sufficient and secure employment and incomes to the dependents of the sector. Their livelihoods are always under threat. Now they are scared suddenly by Covid-19 and the consequent lockdowns which caused loss of Jobs and incomes.

            Indian planning as rightly observed by a prominent Economist “Mahboobul Haq” who worked in the world Bank, Indian planning has bypassed the unemployed segment of the population as employment was always treated as the byproduct of growth but was not properly integrated into the main-stream planning process. In his opinion” The employment objective, in short, has been the stepchild of planning, and it has been assumed, far too readily, that high rates of growth will ensure full employment as well”.(poverty curtain-choices for the third world”). Before the rise of Covid-19 itself, N.S.S estimates revealed that the unemployment rate in India was all-time high of the past 40 years.Covid-19 has further added to this pool of unemployed labour force in India. The LPG policies introduced from 1991 in India added already fuel to the fire of the woes of unorganized migrant labour in India as these policies adopted in India gave more importance to the free market than the state intervention. As the state is playing the role of a spectator in the hands of a dominant market, the livelihoods of the unorganised sector and moreso migrant labour are very much at stake. They are the primary victims of the Economic crisis caused by Covid-19.

       Available data roughly indicates that migrant labour is around 8 crores in our country.Covid-19 made this labour very much threatened of their livelihoods as they are in a very helpless and panic situation and not sure of seeing their kith and kin in this situation. The migration taking back to the native places at present may be called as forced reverse migration. They are emotionally and sentimentally attached to their home towns. These labourers are lured by higher wages and better employment opportunities in urban areas suddenly became helpless due to Covid-19 which took away their employment and incomes and left them to go hungry to their own places. When they go back to their native places, they are not sure of getting any secure employment and incomes. Even after nearly two months lockdown, we still find groups of migrant labour walking on the roads leading to their own states with half-naked children in their arms and heavy luggage on their heads.If we look at their plight,we get surprised to think as to what happened to Indian planning and development models and how they have forgotten these citizens of our great democracy. That is why the respective states of the migrants have to go for planning for some employment creation to enable to earn their subsistence. This is only a temporary measure but still it is the duty of the states to do something for them as we cannot leave them to market forces.Covid-19 taught a lesson to Indian policymakers that the marginalized sections must be taken care of by the state only.The Central and State governments in India are playing a crucial role in protecting the health of all— poor or rich— affected by Covid-19. The private corporate sector had been a total failure in this respect and people have no faith on them. Once again, we are proved that state is still strong in India despite global integration. Probably, now most of the countries may think of disintegrating themselves to the maximum possible extent from the dangerous trend of globalization. India, being one of the biggest democracies in the world, has to show to the world that we can stand on our own legs instead of depending on the charity of IMF and World Bank.

                 The various state governments have to rise to the occasion to help the unorganized and also migrant labour who are the victims of globalization by resorting to some short-term planning strategies to help this most unfortunate section. Health measures and economic measures must go hand in hand in this crisis period which we have not seen earlier. These labourers are asset creators, nation builders and wealth creators and very responsible hard-working citizens of our nation. There are different possible ways of creating livelihoods to this labour. One way of helping which is in the hands of the state and central govts. Is providing employment to as many as possible under MNREGA for the coming 3 to 4 months by relaxing the so-called norms of the scheme. Another way is to strengthen “Anganwadi” centres to provide nutritious food to the children & pregnant mothers of migrant labour although they were not earlier enrolled into the Anganwadis. For example, instead of 16 eggs per month,30 eggs may be given to the children. Instead of one meal to the pregnant women, two meals may be provided. Another possible way to protect them from hunger is to provide “Midday Meal” scheme to the children aged above 6 years of the migrant labour by enrolling them into the scheme. Both the above schemes will enhance the nutritional levels of these unfortunate children and decrease the burden on the parents in providing food to them and improve the food availability to parents. The migrant workers either do not have ration card at the worksite or the relationship is there in the native states. Hence, it is better to provide cooked food in the emergency situation one of the best strategies adopted by the Tamil Nadu govt. is utilizing the infrastructure of Amma canteens to feed the migrant workers freely. This type of experiments may be duplicated in other states with different names to keep the migrant workers from hunger. These canteens serve break-fast and Lunch to the migrant workers. Along with the above measures, the respective state governments by involving local institutions can reenergize the rural and village industries which can also provide employment & incomes to some of these reversed migrants at native places. Here nationalised banks have to play a key role in providing loans to them and the state Govts. have to establish market linkages for their goods and services. This will also lead to village self-sufficiency in the short run. In this context, finding out ways and means to liberally help the state Govts. by the centre acquires significance. In a cooperative federal system, when the states are starved of money, the central Government had to play the role of a big brother and come to the rescue of the states which are helpless. The recent 20 lakh crore package is not directly and immediately going to benefit these poorer sections as it will take some time. Cash availability to the poor migrants is very minimal and insufficient to meet their day to day demand. What is important now is immediate cash transfer of at least Rs.3000 per month to each of the families of migrants to create confidence in their minds that the govt. is with them. This transfer has to be made through village Panchayats after enrolling their names with the help of Aadhar cards. So far, the central Govt. has not given the assurance to States that it will give a huge package of financial assistance to create purchasing power among the poor. All labour intensive sectors are to be encouraged to restart production with social distancing. The state Govts. and the central Govt. must stop all their postponable projects and divert temporarily this money towards employment creation. Hence, planning for rural employment and asset creation in this pandemic situation is inevitable. It is high time that the central Government has to constitute a high level committee of experts consisting of health personnel and also economists to design a planning strategy to come out from this health and consequent economic crisis in the near future.


Professor S. Indrakant, Visiting Professor, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad-16 | Email:indrakant_s at

Prof. N. Linga Murthy, Retd.Prof of Economics, Former vice-chancellor, Kakatiya University, Warangal | Email:lnagishetti at

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