A survey of returned migrants across six states highlighted the continuing impact of the lockdown on them. Their misery was documented in the initial days following the unplanned decision in March, with millions making a dash for home in the wake of the overnight absence of means to earn a livelihood.
The telephonic survey, conducted between June 30 and August 15, found that the average monthly income of those who had returned had witnessed a drop of 85%. It further discovered that nearly two-thirds of them now want to return to their outstation workplaces.
As many as 2,917 returned migrants were surveyed from 505 gram panchayats in 34 districts from Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The findings were reported in a study titled ‘Migrant workers: A study on their livelihood after reverse migration due to lockdown’. It was commissioned by the Inferential Survey Statistics and Research Foundation, a coming together of retired officers from the Indian Statistical Service and the Indian Economic Service, among others.
About 35% of those surveyed reported have no work, while nearly half were found being paid less than minimum wages. Job schemes, including under The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, could provide employment to just 3.53 per cent of those surveyed.
Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, V.K. Singh, had told the lower house in the recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament that more than one crore migrant labourers returned to their homes during March and June this year.
In a bid to tide over their problems, the Centre had allocated an additional Rs. 40,000 crore to MGNREGA, under which rural households are provided with 100 days of work per year.
NewsClick had earlier reported on how the additional funds would not result in generating employment opportunities, given that the scheme has been marred with pending payments from 2019.
To make matters worse, usual food entitlements – along with additional free ration – under the National Food Security Act didn’t reach many. Only four per cent of people received the free rice and less than 2.57 per cent received free wheat and pulses, the survey highlighted.
The findings, which were reported by The Telegraph, used data to substantiate the general perception that the Narendra Modi-led Central Government failed to take note of the migrants’ concerns.
“The survey has found that there was hardly any support for sustaining their income or rations at their place of work,” the report quoted P.C. Mohanan, former acting chairperson of the National Statistical Commission, as saying.
Incidentally similar arguments have been made by activists and civil society groups, who have been vouching for the universalisation of food entitlements to cover the migrant workers.