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COVID-19 has a devastating impact on Inter-state migrant workers

By Ayush Raj

The unexpected occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us a great deal about how vulnerable the current world is, from completely disrupting the tourism sector, paralyzing the supply chain of the whole interconnected economies it has led us to rethink our priorities and the protection policies and issues. The pandemic surely has posed great health and economic crisis across the whole world. As of 16th Jan 2021, there are 9,25,06,811 confirmed cases with almost 20,01,773 deaths, India in midst of all these is the second most infected country after USA with 1,05,42,841 confirmed cases (WHO COVID-19, Dashboard).

India’s fight against COVID started on 22nd Mar 2020, with the ‘Janta Curfew’, later on 24th Mar the 21 days nationwide lockdown was announced, and it continued far after. The lockdown was to avert the country from a major public health catastrophe and it did that, but at the same time it turned out to be a nightmare for lakhs and lakhs of migrant workers, (14 crore according to the Census of India 2011) with everything being shut down. Millions of workers with very limited resources were rendered homeless overnight, many lives were lost, and many will be lost in the long term with the lockdown induced conditions of hunger and starvation.

Migration has been a very old livelihood strategy for millions of people in India and hence these migrant workers constitute the backbone of the whole Indian economy. If we talk about the internal migration only according to the Census of India 2011 and NSSO, there are almost 336 million migrants and they are growing with almost 35% in a decade (in comparison to 2001 census). These are the people who are generally excluded from cultural, social, economic life of society and are generally considered as 2nd class citizens (Rajani Suresh, Justine James & Balraju R. S.j, (2020). Migrants suffer a lot of constraints, being lowly paid, lack of identity proof, lack of political representation, exploitation and among others. The Indian migrant population is not very homogenous. The vast majority of migrants, with over 70% of the total internal migrants as per NSSO (2007–2008), are women, even the child migrants are estimated at approximately 15 million (Daniel, 2011; Smita, 2011).

Figure 1 - Percent Distribution of Migrant Workers by Type of Migration

Source – Census of India 2011

Migration to The Megacities

The megacities give them the hope of survival and a secured future and hence most of the migration takes place to these cities themselves. And these internal migrants constitute about one third of India’s urban population and there has been a steady growth with 31.6% in 1983 to 33% in 1999–2000 and to 35% in 2007–2008 (NSSO, 2007–2008). Below is a table that shows the migration intensity with cases.

Source - Census of India 2011, D3 (Appendix) Migration Table

These above eight cities were the sources of the earliest Covid cases in the country. And this sheer number with it brings out many vulnerabilities to the migrants.


  • Rajani Suresh , Justine James & Balraju R. S.j (2020) Migrant Workers at Crossroads–The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Migrant Experience in India, Social Work in Public Health, 35:7, 633-643, DOI: 10.1080/19371918.2020.1808552

  • Ranjan R. Impact of COVID-19 on Migrant Labourers of India and China. Critical Sociology. November 2020. doi:10.1177/0896920520975074

  • Khanna A. Impact of Migration of Labour Force due to Global COVID-19 Pandemic with Reference to India. Journal of Health Management. 2020;22(2):181-191. doi:10.1177/0972063420935542

  • COVID-19 Coronavirus India State and District Wise Tally - Grainmart News. Retrieved 17 January 2021, from

  • Census of India 2011

  • Smita. (2011, December 6–7). Distress seasonal migration and its impact on children’s education. Presentation at the UNESCO–UNICEF National Workshop on Internal Migration and Human Development in India, New Delhi.

  • Daniel, U. (2011, December 6–7). Update on national workshop on child migration, education and protection 29–30 November 2011, New Delhi. Presentation at the UNESCO–UNICEF National Workshop on Internal Migration and Human Development in India, New Delhi.


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