Migrant woes: Lakhs returned home for want of livelihood

Tina Edwin New Delhi | Updated on June 05, 2020

Majority have borrowed to pay to basic expenses and travel

The Union government estimates that about a crore individuals — migrant workers and their families — have returned to their homes in rural India since the country-wide lockdown was imposed, but a document uploaded by the office of the Chief Labour Commissioner (CLC) on its website on June 2, 2020, estimates the number of stranded migrant workers at about 26.2 lakh.

The Centre through its Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court on Friday that an estimated 57 lakh individuals had travelled back to their homes on the Shramik Specials that were pressed into service after several fatal road accidents involving migrants were reported from different parts of the country. More than 40 lakh are estimated to have travelled by road.

But these estimates of how the migrant workers travelled is at variance with a report released by a group of researchers working under the umbrella of Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN). Some part of the variance may be attributed to the small sample size of SWAN report.

In their report released on Friday, the SWAN team has said that their survey of those who had returned home found that only 39 per cent of them had managed to get on the Shramik special trains. About 44 per cent had travelled by buses and 11 per cent took trucks, lorries and other such modes of transport, while six per cent made the perilous journey on foot. Over 62 per cent of the migrants told SWAN that they had spent more than ₹1,500 per person on travel.

The CLC document on its website does not carry any explanation with data nor does it indicate the period to which the data pertains. However, the document properties indicate that the data may have been collated in late April, just before the launch of Shramik Special trains, after a circular was issued by the CLC to the regional centres to enumerate the number of stranded workers.

About 46 per cent of these stranded workers were not living in relief camps or in situ at workplaces, but in clusters with other migrant workers.

Chhattisgarh, Kerala top charts

Chhattisgarh reported the highest number of stranded workers, at about 10.9 lakh, followed by Kerala with 2.9 lakh. Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Maharashtra had between 1.81 lakh and 1.93 lakh stranded workers, and Andhra Pradesh about a lakh.

Significantly, of the 10.9 lakh stranded workers in Chhattisgarh, about 8.6 lakh were living in clusters with other migrant workers, perhaps an indication that many of them were enroute to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal from other States. Around 2.2 lakh of the migrant workers were in situ at the workplace.

Of Kerala’s 2.9 lakh stranded workers, only about 45,400 were in clusters. All others were either at relief camps or in situ at their workplace. Half of Telangana’s stranded workers were also clustered with other migrants at different locations.

No cash, no food

Most of these migrant workers had exhausted their savings, were consuming far less food compared to the pre-lockdown period, and had borrowed money to take some form of transport home, according to the SWAN study.

The latest study, the third in a series, brings together findings of surveys by Azim Premji University (APU), Dvara Research and Indus Action and involves interactions with migrant workers between May 15 and June 1.

The APU survey of more than 5,000 households found that 77 per cent of all the households were consuming less food than before and 47 per cent did not have money to even buy a week’s worth of essentials.

It also found that nearly 25 per cent of the vulnerable households did not receive any rations.

A Dvara Research survey reported that only 31 per cent out of 347 households indicated that ration shops were open as usual. An Indus Action a survey of 5,046 households across 15 States found that around one in six households (16.7 per cent) indicated that they were in need of food.

SWAN has been receiving distress calls from migrant workers. Of the 821 distress calls received between May 15 and June 1, corresponding to 5,911 migrant workers across the country, 80 per cent reported that they did not have access to free rations provided by the government. However, there was some improvement in access after May 22.

About 76 per cent of people who called had less than ₹300 left with them with 63 per cent saying they had less than ₹100 left with them.

Livelihood devastated

The APU survey also found that livelihoods of women were more impacted than men. Among the urban workers surveyed, 82 per cent of female casual workers and 80 per cent of male casual workers had lost employment.

The survey also found that 89 per cent of self-employed female workers and 77 per cent of self-employed male workers had lost employment.

The lockdown has also resulted in job losses for the regular salaried workers. The loss of income meant that 89 per cent of urban households did not have the means to pay rent for the next month and about 41 per cent of urban households had to take loans to meet expenses. For rural households, the corresponding numbers were around 65 per cent and 33 per cent, respectively.

Many of these migrant families had to take loans to pay for their expenses, mostly on rations. Loan amount varied, but a sizeable proportion said they had taken loans of ₹2,000-₹5,000. But about 15 per cent of those who took loans, borrowed more than ₹8,000.

Published on June 05, 2020

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