Out of 1.23 crore migrant workers who returned to their home States during the Covid–19 lockdown, 50 per cent ( 61,34,943) were from three States — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.

Add Rajasthan and Odisha’s workers to the list and these five States together recorded 67 per cent migrant workers returning home. Interestingly Gujarat is the only State which has not reported return of any migrant worker. The Ministry of Labour and Employment told the Lok Sabha on Monday that most of these migrant workers have returned to their workplaces and resumed productive employment.

The data provided by the Ministry shows that Uttar Pradesh has biggest share (26 per cent) of migrant workers who returned to the State followed by Bihar (12 per cent),West Bengal and Rajasthan (11 per cent), Odisha (7 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (6 per cent).

In June 2020, the government launched Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan across 116 districts in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha to boost employment and livelihood opportunities for migrant works returning to villages in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak. Per the government data, with total expenditure of about ₹39,293 crore the Abhiyan has generated 50,78,68,671 man-days employment.


Agricultural workers

Census data show that labourers account for about 45 per cent of the population working in agriculture, farmers constitutethe remaining 55 per cent. The total number of agricultural workers in the country increased from 234.1 million (127.3 million cultivators and 106.8 million agricultural labourers) in 2001 to 263.1 million (118.8 million cultivators and 144.3 million agricultural labourers) in 2011.

However, the share of workforce engaged in the agriculture sector (comprising of cultivators and agricultural labourers) came down from 58.2 per cent in 2001 to 54.6 per cent in 2011.

“Migration of agricultural labour from rural to urban areas is a general phenomenon and a natural part of the development process. The reasons for this shift include, inter alia , better employment opportunities in industry and services, increasing urbanisation, low income in agriculture etc. In a market economy like India, movement of the people for better economic opportunities is inexorable,” the Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Narendra Singh Tomar, told the Lok Sabha last year during discussions on agricultural land.

Labour migration rate

According to the Ministry of Finance,0 the Cohort-based Migration Metric (CMM) shows that inter-State labour mobility averaged 5 to 6.5 million people between 2001 and 2011, yielding an inter-State migrant population of about 60 million and an inter-district migration as high as 80 million.

The first-ever estimates of internal work-related migration using Railways data for the period 2011-2016 show an annual average flow of close to 9 million migrant people between the States. These estimates are significantly greater than the annual average flow of about 4 million suggested by successive Censuses and higher than previously estimated by any study.

Even as government claims that migrant workers are returning to the work, industrial bodies, including the construction sector, claim that they are unable to resume 100 per cent work in the absence of workers.