Bhopal: Nearly 90% of the migrant labourers who returned to Madhya Pradesh during the lockdown feared unemployment, and around 54% of them do not wish to move again, according to a survey conducted by a Bhopal-based NGO.
As per the survey, conducted on migrant labourers from the state, nearly 80% of those that have returned believe that they will be caught in a web of debts due to unemployment and widespread hunger. The workers said that since the majority of them did not have a ration card, they may end up selling their land, household items and jewellery to survive, but will not migrate for employment.
The survey was conducted by Vikas Samvad, a rights-based advocacy group, on workers in ten districts of the state – Rewa, Satna, Panna, Umaria, Mandla, Chhattarpur, Shivpuri, Vidisha, Shahdol and Niwari. The NGO interviewed 30 migrants from each district and prepared the report based on their findings.
The economic insecurity and agony that they faced after the lockdown has resulted in 54.6% of the migrant labourers in the study being averse to migrating again, even if the COVID-19 triggered situation returned to normalcy. About 24.5% of the returning migrants are indecisive about whether they would choose to migrate again and when that would happen. Nearly 21% of those that were surveyed are clear that they would like to return when the situation goes back to normal.
While unveiling the report, Sachin Jain of Vikas Samvad said that the threat of the novel coronavirus spreading through the migrant workers was high, since they have been returning from cites like Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Both cities are struggling to cope with cases of COVID-19 at the moment.
“The State Health Department should conduct a random sampling of returned migrants to trace the virus before it spreads in rural areas. Adequate measures need to be taken to curb the spread of the virus,” said Jain, mentioning that the number of cases of COVID-19 were high in places that were testing more.
According to the report, which quotes from the state government’s official data, Madhya Pradesh (MP) has brought back 4.63 lakh migrant workers from different states till May 20. They include 1.93 lakh workers from Gujarat, one lakh from Rajasthan and 1.07 lakh from Maharashtra. Around ten lakh labourers have returned by themselves, a number which is unaccounted for.
Surprisingly, in a newspaper advertisement on May 22, the state government claimed that 13.21 lakh migrant workers have returned to MP and that it was launching a special employment drive for them.
‘95% of labourers earn less than Rs 500’
The report said that 45.5% of labourers had migrated with their families while the remaining 54.5% had gone by themselves. The majority of them worked in the construction sector, businesses and in factories/industries. Of them, 81% said that they did not get any leave or holidays during the time they were employed. Moreover, their wages were deducted on the days they were absent, resulting in a loss of their earnings, the report added.
The reports revealed that the wages of nearly 95% of the migrant labourers was less than Rs 500 a day. As the mode of payment varies from being daily, weekly, to monthly, the sudden lockdown left 47% of labourers either unpaid or only partially paid.
Migrants return with less than Rs 100, says report
Highlighting the plight of migrant workers due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown, the report says that 23% of the returning migrant labourers were left with less than Rs 100 on their return, whilst 7% of the labourers did not even have a single rupee with them when they reached home.
About 25.2% of the workers had money ranging from Rs 101 to Rs 500, whilst 18.1% of them had money ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 1000. Only 11% of the labourers had more than Rs 2001 in cash.
Most (91.2%) of the migrant labourers fear that they will be trapped in unemployment. As many as 81% of the workers believe that there is an emergency-like situation due to the pandemic and a crisis due to the lack of treatment facilities.
Emergency to opportunity
Jain said that the state government should seize the opportunity and conduct a survey of the migrant workers and employ them under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
“The unskilled migrant labourers should be given employment under MGNREGA. The skilled workers should be given employment in factories and industries within the state, and the Government can help them after speaking with the industries,” Jain said, adding that food processing units can turn out to be a boon for agriculture.
“Subsidised ration under public distribution system, home under PM Awas Yojna and quality education and training for children and adolescents in government-run schools would help migrant workers to stay, and they would not need to migrate back,” Jain advised.