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FICCI Reports on the Rehabilitation of Migrant Workers in India

by Charmi Saujani

The number of internal migrants in India was 450 million as per the most recent 2011 census. This is an increase of 45% over the 309 million recorded in 2001. This far exceeds the population growth rate of 18% across 2001-2011. There were 272 million international migrants in 2019, comprising 3.5% of world population. India was the largest country of origin (17.5m), followed by Mexico (11.8m). Migration is a diagnostic of urbanization. An increase in the demand for labor in urban areas with better wages and lack of opportunities at the local level has been accelerating large-scale internal migration towards India's urban growth engines including Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, and others.

FICCI, the largest and oldest apex business organization in India, prepared a report that aims to provide the context in which the pattern and trends in migration have been changing in India, international best practices on internal migration, and recommendations for rehabilitation of migrant workers.

The report starts with context and background of migration. Globally, in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, approximately 40% of urban growth results from internal migration from rural to urban areas. Within India, regardless of the duration of their stay, labor migrants face myriad challenges at their destinations as the country dizzies in its diversity of languages and cultures. Among the challenges are restricted access to basic needs such as identity documentation, social entitlements, housing, and financial services. Migrants in India can be categorized into three segments: long term migrants, seasonal or circular migrants and women who migrate with their husband after marriage. The sudden displacement of thousands of migrant workers caused by an unprecedented outbreak of COVID-19 has a far-reaching impact on the Indian economy and the states should be prepared to deal with the consequences of behavioral changes caused in them by the lockdown. If the migrants would not return, the industrial centers such as Gurugram, Surat, and Tirupur would be deprived of labor for a long period of time, likely raising the wage burden on small- and medium- sized units struggling to crawl out of an economic slowdown.

The approach for the study in this report is a multi-pronged one to come up with recommendations for the rehabilitation of low-income migrant workers. The approach for this study is depicted under following stages:

The report moves toward the data and perspective behind migration. The pattern of growth in the last two decades has steadily widened the gap between agriculture, non- agriculture, rural and urban areas, and it has steadily concentrated in a few states. And the premium which employers place on flexible labour to reduce labor costs has caused an increase in informal employment. The crucial question is whether, and to what extent, recent reverse migration will impact re-starting economic activities and what steps can be taken towards the rehabilitation of migrant workers.

Tables given below give detailed and clear information about reasons and streams of migration.

Besides its demographic impact, large-scale, rural-urban migration affects both the patterns of urban growth at the destination and land cover and land use in the region of the migrants' origin. The 2011 Census highlights that 43,324 uninhabited villages were presumably abandoned due to rural-urban migration.

Also, in contrast to the stereotype of migrants being largely in low-income occupations like street vending, etc., they are employed across all sectors and have proven to be essential for the growth of select sectors. It also contributes to the very high share of informality in India's workforce. The concept of push and pull migration is explained and the role of employment guarantee schemes such as MGNREGA, Rural Housing Schemes such as Prime Minister's Awas Yojana- Rural (PMAY-Rural) are recognised by the FICCI Task Force to mitigate pressures for push migration.

The report further provides an international perspective for migration by highlighting the migration journeys of many countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and China.

· In Vietnam, the transformation from a centrally planned economy to market economy caused unequally distributed benefits across regions which triggered a flow of rural to urban migration. In the last 3-4 years, the Government, industry and social organisations have taken various initiatives to empower local migrant workers.

· In Thailand, various steps have been taken for the elimination of worker-borne recruitment fees, increased opportunities for mobility within local labour markets, establishment of a guarantee deposit and clearer licensing requirements for in-bound recruitment, creation of a fund to assist migrant workers (domestic and international), prohibition on the withholding of identification documents and the formation of a tripartite committee to oversee the development of migration policy.

· Indonesia launched a massive data capturing exercise to cover migrant movements within the country. A unique initiative called Building User “Home Cell Tower” Profiles helped the country in creating a scientific database.

· Hukou System is followed in China with three key functions: tracking of internal migration, the management of social protection and, the preservation of social stability.

Within Southeast Asia, the reasons for moving in and between regions vary from country to country, though demand for labour in urban centres is often a key pull factor. Other reasons for movement are as diverse as a desire to rejoin family members, marriage, access education, and environmental instability.

After multiple rounds of discussions with relevant stakeholders, the Task Force of this study proposes the following recommendations to rehabilitate the migrant workers-both internal and international who have returned during the current crisis.

Immediate action plan for the government includes providing financial support to migrants for immediate relief, mandatory registration for all workers, creation of migration support centres (State/ District wise), counselling, skill training, implementation of apprenticeship, effective communication strategy and lastly, social security policy review.

Immediate action plan for government and Industry involves compliance of rules/laws, providing skill development fund for migrant workers and housing facility along with improved working conditions.

Medium-term action plan for the government should consist of forming a national level robust database and a review of provisions of Inter-State Migrant Workmen act 1979.

Long-Term action plan for the government and Industry includes development of traditional clusters, future trends & forecasting of industrial landscape and jobs, setting up investments in small towns and a scheme to provide smart mobile phones.

Recommendations under immediate, short-term, and long- term measures are certainly going to help relevant stakeholders with right direction in policy formation and its implementation. As Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General FICCI, believes - migration has remained a sensitive subject in India and it requires an empathetic approach to develop a scientific mechanism of tracking the movement, data driven policy formation, and its implementation road map. The right mechanism of data collation, aggregation and using it to produce data driven policy should be the first step forward.


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