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Which states performed the best in responding to India’s migrant crisis?

by Charmi Saujani

The India Today Mood of the Nation (MOTN) poll was conducted by Delhi-based market research agency between July 15, 2020 and July 27, 2020. Forty three per cent of the 12,021 respondents surveyed in the poll said both the central and state governments were responsible for the mass exodus of migrant workers. Another 14 per cent blamed only the state governments for the migrant crisis, while 10 per cent pointed fingers at the Centre. However, 13 per cent of the respondents feel it was the fault of employers of the migrant workers and labourers due to which they suffered. Meanwhile, 12 per cent put the blame on rumour and misinformation that the migrants 'fell prey to’.

Estimates show that Uttar Pradesh and Bihar account for the origin of 25 per cent and 14 per cent of the total inter-state migrants, followed by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, at 6 per cent and 5 per cent. This means that around 4-6 million people would be wanting to return to Uttar Pradesh, and 1.8-2.8 million to Bihar. Another 700,000 to 1 million would be wanting to return to Rajasthan and 600,000-900,000 to Madhya Pradesh.

“In terms of how quickly support reaches, Delhi, Haryana and Karnataka have been good. In these states it has been easier to reach government officials and the right channels to get relief,” said Sakina Dhorajiwala of SWAN. She, however, noted that some state governments, like in Maharashtra and UP, were very unresponsive.

To understand the performance of the states in a better way we can classify their efforts into different categories : Financial aid, housing, food, employment and transport.

Financial aid : As reported on 20th April 2020, 70% workers surveyed across India said they had less than ₹200 to survive during the lockdown. In Uttar Pradesh, 87% of the migrant workers had less than ₹200. Some state governments (like Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) announced one-time cash transfers for returning migrant workers. UP government announced the provision of maintenance allowance of Rs 1,000 for returning migrants who are required to quarantine. Three states – Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh – which account for the majority of migrant workers stranded across the country also announced cash transfers. The Uttar Pradesh government had also assured workers cash transfers of Rs 1,000 but SWAN member Rajendran Narayanan said their volunteers had not come across beneficiaries. In Haryana, 76% had less than ₹300. Madhya Pradesh has restarted the Sambal Yojana, which will also cover migrant labourers and provide social security to their family members, including school fees of children and insurance.

Housing : India had approved a plan to develop affordable rental housing for migrant workers after millions of labourers fled the nation's cities for villages amidst coronavirus lockdowns that left many of them without jobs and homes. The scheme, part of a federal housing project aimed at providing housing for all by 2022, aims to convert existing vacant government housing into affordable rental housing complexes (ARHC). Private developers can also participate. The programme will benefit about 300,000 workers initially, according to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said on 10th July that 70,000 govt-funded houses are ready to be let out to the migrants. In the first phase of the ARHC scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana houses in the states of Maharashtra, Delhi, and Telangana are ready to move-in. Moreover, Gram Panchayats were empowered to lead village-wise listing of potential tenants and enumeration fallow lands by the efforts demonstrated in Kudumbashree in Kerala and AP.

Food : As reported on 20th April 2020, 96% workers surveyed across India said they did not get rations from the government. In Uttar Pradesh, 100% of the migrant workers did not receive rations. In Maharashtra, 99% of them did not receive rations. In Karnataka, 93% of them did not receive rations. Providing dry rations to the stranded has also been a challenge, especially in states like UP and Maharashtra where most people have not received any help from the government. Fewer than one in five of the 80 million migrant labourers allocated food aid by the Indian Government received supplies in May and June, according to new data.

Employment : States/UTs had been advised to provide work to the migrant workers going back home. The government will also allocate an additional Rs 40,000 crore under MGNREGA to provide work. This measure will help generate nearly 300 crore person days in total and create a large number of durable and livelihood assets, including water conservation assets. Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are finalising their online databases of migrant workers with details such as how skilled the workers are and how they can be best employed within the state. The move comes about two weeks after the states announced a series of changes to labour laws and did away with many labour-friendly laws. UP has received about 2.5 million workers since March 1 to 26 may. The migrant commission announced by the Uttar Pradesh government will map skills of workers who have returned to the state, providing data to employment exchanges while also providing workers social security measures like insurance. Other states are not behind in the process. Rajasthan has started collecting data of both skilled and unskilled workers from all its 33 districts. The database will be made open to factory owners in 18 industrial clusters soon. The state administration has collected details of 1.2 million unemployed as well as of 2.1 million workers employed in sectors such as mining, manufacturing, electricity, gas, water and cement, said an official. An official said the MP state government was preparing a database of its workers, both residing in the state and those who have come from neighbouring states, to ensure they get work through the Centre’s flagship rural jobs programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee act.

Transport : On May 1, the Indian Railways resumed passenger movement (for the first time since March 22) with Shramik Special trains to facilitate the movement of migrants stranded outside their home state. Between May 1 and June 3, Indian Railways operated 4,197 Shramik trains transporting more than 58 lakh migrants. Top states from where Shramik trains originated are Gujarat and Maharashtra and states where the trains terminated are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Other : Approximately 600,000 migrant labourers from Jharkhand were stranded in 10,000 different areas across India, according to the state government. The Jharkhand government launched ‘Chief Ministers Special Assistance Scheme’, a mobile app to help with the registration of the stranded labourers. In May, UP announced temporary relaxation of all except three laws and one provision for the next three years to make it easier for factories to operate in the state. Rajasthan amended Industrial Disputes Act to increase the threshold for layoffs and retrenchment to 300 from 100 earlier.

Where efforts were diverse to combat varying issues related to the migrant crisis, there can’t be one winner in this race. We saw some states like UP tried to make various plans and many worked as well but some lacked in the implementation. Gujarat, Maharashtra & Madhya Pradesh and Kerala also made significant efforts in the process.

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