Migrants returning back- Perhaps a fragmented asset

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Photo used for indicative purpose only. Source: orfonline.org

June 8, 2020
An estimated one crore migrant labour have already returned to their home states during the past one month due to loss of work as a result of continued lockdown and also the dread of Coronavirus. Thousands of workers are still lined up in many states to return to their hometowns as soon as train reservations are made available. Thousands of ‘Shramik’ special trains and buses had been deployed to take them to their respective destinations. The horror of their traveling on foot or through illegal modes of transport has at least receded. The honorable Supreme court has also recently directed the concerned governments to organize for their return within the next 15 days.
A big question, will the situation stand settled after their return?
While on the one hand, the Corona positive cases are alarmingly increasing every day without any respite, the state governments appear to have taken it in their stride and have started opening up of the economy in a phased manner. Another alarming situation is about to emerge when on the one hand the industry will fail to get their experienced manpower back and on the other end, the migrated labour will fail to get gainful employment in their home states.
While the state governments are talking loud of starting avenues to engage these workers in their home states, the big question remains over the depleting resources at their hands to undertake such ventures.
If one views the employment opportunities in the industrial sector itself one finds a huge gap in the concentration of industrial activities in some states in comparison to deficient in others. The opportunities for employment in certain progressive states had only resulted in the migration of workers to far off places. The industrial activities and resultant employment opportunities in the deficient states are not going to emerge overnight.
The scenario had emerged over many many years when rising unemployment in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had forced the youth to look for greener pastures in western and northern states. And gradually these labourers had opted to bring their family members as well along. The women folk too had got employed as domestic help in urban class households for supplementing their family income. The urban lifestyle of these migrants portrayed in their hometowns over the years had attracted their near and dear ones to try their luck too in cities. If not in employment, such people had too got their foothold as casual workers, hawkers, rickshaw pullers, etc.
The exodus of this workforce from the cities as a result of the impact of Corona scare has already started showing the negative impact. Not only the organized industry, the unorganized sector too started feeling the scarcity of experienced labour.
A study shows that most of the casual workers viz masons, construction labour, home painters found in cities are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. While labour from Orissa specialises in plumbing jobs, the Jewelry industry was seen to have employed people from West Bengal.
All over the country, these migrants had found a comfortable habitat except some hostile places like Maharashtra where the north Indian Bihar migrants were often targeted under the political compulsion by certain party leaders. But unfortunately in the hour of the Corona crisis, such hostility had been experienced by them in almost all the states. Not to be surprised, the Corona scare has made everyone individualistic, self-centered and selfish
The exodus of such a large workforce is already being felt by the households where the housewives are not finding domestic help easily. A clear situation was that one needed all the helpers, gardeners, domestic help, cleaners, drivers, at hand but no one wanted the existence of jhuggies and shanties near their homes.
On the other side is the scenario of the influx of these migrants in their home states. They have landed in their own homes as guests but many have already started feeling the pinch of uncertain future in the times to come. Had the home states been able to generate sufficient employment why they had been forced to go away in search of work. If at all there was work in villages why was there so much unemployment in these Hindi heartlands? The influx is not only going to pose a big problem for the family members of these migrants but also for the state governments who already are reeling under funds crunch as a result of the economic shutdown.
The day is not far when the Corona will be braced by everyone as a common ailment without its dread of fatality as a result of vaccines, these very migrants will be lining up to go back to their old places of work. The trains will once again be overflowing with people to Mumbai, Gujarat, Delhi Punjab and other cities.
I still distinctly remember when after taking over as Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, in a public address, had claimed that the 65 percent youth population of the country was a big asset for the country. Today, after 6 years of governance, how can one assess the fruitfulness of this huge workforce especially in the face of the prevailing pandemic.
The exodus and the influx are the emerging areas of concern that need to be addressed urgently by the respective states.

TO BE CONTINUED……

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