Reverse migration could hurt urban economy

Puneet Kumar Shrivastav |Tareef Husain | Updated on: Jul 06, 2022
Migrant workers were faced with sudden loss of livelihoods during the first lockdown

Migrant workers were faced with sudden loss of livelihoods during the first lockdown | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

The recent PLFS data reveals the extent of Covid-induced urban exodus, as well as rising labour participation in rural India

The Fourth Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) data released by the National Statistical Office (NSO), on June 14, uncovers the much-awaited official statistics on migration.

The NSO has released the ‘Migration in India 2020-21’ report, giving out data on Covid/lockdown induced migration based on a sample survey of 1,00,344 households consisting of 4,10,818 persons of whom 1,13,998 were migrants. The previously available migration datasets were NSSO’s 64th Round (2007-08) on migration followed by Census 2011.

However, in 2020-21, the Labour Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Employment, started the All India Survey of Migrant Workers, but the data and report is yet to be released.

Some other private organisations and agencies such as the Azim Premji University have conducted surveys on migration and lockdown. Prior to the present survey, hardly any recent official statistics was available on the flow of migration, migrant workers and reverse migrant workers.

The NSO defines a migrant as an individual residing at the ‘present place of enumeration (PoE) that is different from his/her usual place of residence (UPR)’. UPR is the place (village/town) where the person has been staying continuously for at least six months or having intention to stay there continuously for six months or more.

A person may have many UPRs in his life span provided he/she has stayed at different places for at least six months.

The report estimated that migration rate in the country at 28.9 per cent. The migration rate is the percentage of migrants in the total population. The migration flows may be rural to rural; rural to urban; urban to rural and urban to urban.

Furthermore, the categorisation of migrant based on gender and level of education reveals interesting results. Female migration is much higher (81.1 per cent) than male (18.8 per cent), the main reason being ‘marriage’.

Across education level, the highest percentage of migration was found to be among illiterates (33 per cent) followed by primary educated (19 per cent), secondary and senior secondary (18 per cent), middle (17 per cent) and graduate and above (11 per cent) suggesting that the incidence of migration was higher among the illiterate and less educated, as is expected.

Lockdown and migration

A significant number of migrants had a harrowing time when the first ever lockdown was imposed on March 24, 2020, to restrain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among the vulnerable population, migrant workers had been the most exposed to unemployment and starvation as they suddenly lost their livelihood.

Stranded in other States and metro cities with no work and income, they suffered economic problems and psychological trauma. Thus far, much has been said of the plight of migrants and reverse migration due to lockdown in the absence of official statistics.

This PLFS data was collected during the July 2020 to June 2021 period, hence exhibiting significant statistics on the impact of lockdown on migrants using a cut-off point ‘March 2020’. Out of total migrants in India (that is, 28.9 per cent of total population), 3.14 per cent had migrated after ‘March 2020’ as shown in the report. Further, the unit level data of PLFS reported that during 2020-21, the ‘reverse migrant or returned migrant’ estimated to be 11.1 per cent of the total migrants.

The returned migrants are those who moved to their earlier UPR (where they have resided any time in the past) from their last UPR. However, this reverse migration found to be as high as 53 per cent after the cut-off point ‘March 2020’.

The main reasons for Covid-induced migration after ‘March 2020’ are loss of job/closure of unit/lack of employment opportunities (19.35 per cent), health (14 per cent), migration of parent/earning member of the family, etc. (see figure).

Such reverse migration has manifold implications for Indian primary and secondary sectors, the rural-urban areas and overall economy. In the near future, migration could slow as the PLFS unit level data reveal that 60 per cent of returned migrants are not interested in moving out to their last UPR or any other place.

The Worker Population Ratio (WPR) in rural areas rose to 41.3 per cent in 2020-21 from 35 per cent in 2017-18. Similarly, the share of employment in agriculture increased from 42.4 per cent in 2018-19 to 46.4 per cent in 2020-21, again not a positive sign for a healthy economy.

On the other side, the urban economy is facing a shortage of skilled and unskilled labour especially in the secondary sector; and the absence of technological development of the secondary sector may hit industrial production.

Shrivastav is Assistant Director at National Institute of Labour Economics Research & Development (Under NITI Aayog); and Husain is Assistant Professor of Economics at Galgotias University. Views expressed are personal

Published on July 05, 2022
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