The needs of migrants should be addressed through a concerted national policy

Updated on: May 04, 2020

As a first, the one-nation-one-ration-card scheme must become a reality

Chaotic scenes of desperate migrants wanting to catch the first train back ‘home’ point to a staggering policy and data blindness: namely, there is no information on the work and living conditions of 45 crore internal migrants as of 2011, who accounted for 37 per cent of the population. The latter figure is unlikely to have decreased since then. There are both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors at work from rural to urban areas — if farming has come under the pressures of land fragmentation, economic growth has thrown up a range of job opportunities in urban centres, ranging from construction to retail to the ‘gig’ economy. The Lewsian factor of development has been at work, with education emerging as a major force for the movement of populations, and for women to realise their aspirations.

The 2001-11 decade, for the first time in Independent India, also saw the urban population growing more rapidly than the rural population. Urban India added more number of people, 91 million, compared to rural India which added 90 million more people. Yet, the lockdown has shown up the failure of the State to provide basic economic and psychological security to those who keep the wheels of urban economies running. For an economy that prides itself on its demographic dividend, it is surprising that food, housing, health, sanitation, education, transport and skilling are out of reach for over a third of its population. As a first, the one-nation-one-ration-card scheme must become a reality. Kerala has a social security scheme in place for registered migrants — accident and medical care; education allowance — but its coverage is inadequate. Covid-19 is likely to lead to changes in migration patterns at least for a while, with migrants seeking destinations closer home. This should be seen as an opportunity to develop smaller towns into hubs that promote specific industries and skills. The Unorganised Sector Social Security Act, 2008, had drawn up a system of documenting informal sector workers through a system of welfare boards. This needs to be revisited, and a viable infrastructure put in place with cards issued to such workers. This will be useful for implementing cash transfers or a universal basic income scheme. The National Skills Development Mission should work in tandem with the needs of the workforce and the changing demands of the urban ecosystem. For instance, the changing demands of the construction industry need to translate into skill sets.

Cities need to be conceptualised as more inclusive spaces, so that its workforce feels at home. The affordable housing initiative should focus on the informal sector workforce, so that they live in respectable townships. Public transport should be cheap and efficient enough to enhance productivity. Today’s migrant crisis raises larger questions on the prevailing development paradigm. A national migration policy is called for to deal with development challenges.

Published on May 04, 2020
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