Arjun Kumar, Ritika Gupta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Sakshi Sharda, Anshula Mehta, Chhavi Kapoor

The second wave of Corona Virus has hit, the strain has proven to be more virulent. India in the past seven days has reported over three lakh cases per day. Currently, 150 districts in the country have a COVID positive rate passing 20 percent and hence debating a lockdown. This reminisce the terrifying images of the COVID-19 induced national lockdown in March 2020 which manifested the glaring gap in policy implementation in urban centers not accounting for the migrant population. It seems the country is back to the same page, none the wiser.

To avoid the memoirs of 2020 erred lockdown, migrants are returning to their villages. This re-exodus of the migrants from urban centers is a result of trust deficit of this section of populous in the urban governance. Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation assured that a national lockdown will not be imposed, yet, economic activity which had just begun to make some form of recovery stands in jeopardy. This slowdown is rerunning the process towards lockdown, thus, motioning towards reverse migration while quantum of the problem is uncertain yet again.  

The Guardian

Statistical and Legislative History

The neglected population was recognized in 1979 through Inter-State Migrant Workman Act 1979. Additionally, Building and Other Construction Workers’ (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act 1996 was introduced. Both acts took a holistic approach to migrants’ needs, however they made the employment expensive.

The perfunctory implementation of these acts by the states did not yield the desired results and provisions remained on papers. More significantly, the onerous assumption of data availability without any proper methodology of data collection with implementers proved these legislations to be inadequate in forming migration policies. In 2020, the Inter-State Migrant Workman Act 1979 has now been subsumed in the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020

With the increasing number of migrants, the central government decided to eliminate the data lag and conducted it first ever survey in 2007 with the aim to quantify the number of migrants in the country. The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), Employment & Unemployment and Migration Particulars (64th) Round of data collection in 2007-08 calculated the total migrant population in the country to be 32 million. The figure increased to 51 million in the 2011 census statistics. According to the Census of India, inter-state migrants’ workers grew annually at the rate of 4.5 percent from 33 million in 2001 to 51 million in 2011. In a decade, the Economic Survey of 2016-17 calculated the total migrant population to be 80 million.

With the aggravating effects of COVID-19 pandemic, the decennial statistical activity of Census 2021 has been halted. India continues to frame policies on the last recorded data on migrant workers. Given the massive rise, can government policies be comprehensive with 5 year old data?

Migration Statistics during COVID-19

The various varying estimates are in the public domain representing an unambiguous number of people stranded in 2020 lockdown. The impetuous lockdown did not account for lives and livelihoods of 80 million people. They were labelled as carriers of virus travelling in virus trains  or corona express and were seen as expendable. Similar trend is being witnessed in 2021 and the lackadaisical approach of the government towards data collection, accessibility, and analysis could create further devastation. 

As per honorable Home Minister Shri Amit Shah, 63 lakh migrants traveled on about 4,594 trains to their native places. Around 42 lakh migrants traveled through various forms of transport and in total, about 1.20 crore people were moved from one place to another”. With no other statistics available describing the demographics of migrant population, the government framed policies and adopt measures based on this figure.

Migration Statistics

When private sector and civil society sector are able to collect data and simultaneously provide aid to the migrants then what is hindering government to adopt such exercise? It is inevitable that these surveys cannot replace the standardized government sponsored data collection because of the limited resources deployed in such activity, however, these surveys pointed towards important trends which the government can employ to collect data faster and more comprehensively focus on the issues explained in the trends.

Table 1: Private/Civil Society Institutions’ data intervention in first wave of COVID-19 Pandemic

InstitutionPeriodStates CoverageRespondentsFindings
Azim Premji University13 April 2020 to 23 May 2020125000Two third of the migrant population had lost employment and the earnings in the informal sector dropped by half
Action Aid AssociationMay 2020 and August 2020-September 2020 (Longitudinal Survey)2011000According to the survey 75 percent of the population has lost their livelihoods by the third phase of the lockdown. 53 percent reported incurring additional debt by the first month of the pandemic.
IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute’s Field Lab VerticalMay 202020312174 percent of the casual labourers lost their jobs while 67 percent of the self-employed workers could not pursue their economic activities due to lockdown
ICRIER and Inferential Survey Statistics and Research Foundation (ISSRF)June-August 202062917More than a third of the reverse migrants (38.6 per cent) reported having no work after returning to their native place. With no proper employment opportunity in their native places, the household incomes of migrants fell by as much as 85 per cent during the first wave.

Last year’s failure to deliver effective service deliveries to the migrants made government act upon the data lag. This inability to have a reliable figure made impactful policy formulation more difficult, which was supplemented with the complete crisis of confidence. Thus, at the time of crunch, Central and State Governments in the past year had adopted humungous exercise to record the statistics. Some examples of such initiatives are given below:

  • The labor commissionerate of center and state governments had set up control rooms in capital cities and different districts of the country for effective COVID-19 tracing and tracking last year. The control room in Lucknow had data of nearly 60,000 people with names, cell numbers and addresses.  Similarly, states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and many more have similar data from the last year’s exercise. With the second wave, the commissionerate has reopened 20 control centers to redress the grievances of the migrants returning home.
  • Central government allowed for Sharmik Special Trains with the aim to help the mobility of people from cities to their native homes. States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Punjab, and Maharashtra received the highest number of trains which carried about 60 lakh migrants. The database which would had been maintained by such mass transportation is an extensive statistics.
  • The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship through the National Skill Development Corporation is using artificial intelligence to create a platform to map skilled and certified workers with demand clusters based on industrial requirements. The proposal is to micro focus governments intervention towards skilling and creating sustainable livelihoods for migrants
Source: The Print

In Budget 2021, honorable finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman in her speech announced launch a portal collecting relevant information on gig, building, and construction-workers among others. The portal is called National Database of Unorganized Workers (NDUW), which will be a comprehensive database of the unorganized workers and migrant workers, seeded with Aadhaar. It will have details of name, occupation, address, occupation type, educational qualification, skill types and family details etc. for optimum realization of their employability and extend the benefits of the social security schemes to them.

This ample exercise is being further supplemented with the a collective of five surveys All-India Survey on Migrant workers, All-India Survey on Domestic Workers, All-India Survey on Employment Generated by Professionals, All-India Survey on Employment Generated in Transport Sector, and All-India Quarterly Establishment based Employment Survey. The field investigators training of two surveys have already been completed and promised to deliver the results of the same in 2021.

With the heightened second wave of coronavirus pandemic and fear of complete lockdown, the migration is on the peak. To avoid last year’s horrors, the state governments are now the charioteer of social security system. Delhi government has announced a Welfare Fund for Building and Other Constructions Workers in which there already has been 3.5 Crore registered workers. The registry of such workers would have served the basis of policy formulation.

Way Forward

With such enormous data exercises prevailing in the country and the best methodologies existing in the Indian statistical system, the government has not been able to produce a reliable figure for the policymakers to avoid the lagged service deliveries.

Revive old statistical activities

Discontinuing surveys between the decennial census activities needs to be reinvigorated both with methodology and comprehensivity. The unavailability of data regarding stranded migrants in the cities have led to human crisis threatening survival. The government came with many economic relief packages providing food grains free of cost, which was extended further. But unavailability of data made this exercise a tedious process.

To rehabilitate the statistical system on migration data, the government willfully announced several surveys and initiatives. In this digital era, the focus on the availability of the new digital data is a progressive step, however, putting resources in haphazard survey exercises and ignoring the past statistical exercise methodologies is a strain on resources, energy and efforts rather improvement in the existing methodologies such as in the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) would have been a comprehensive statistical architectural exercise.

Use existing registries

Indian statistical administration is already home to many registries such as construction workers, workers in manufacturing sector, transportation statistics, and skill mapping registries which can be utilized for informed decision making. The five surveys will yield result by the end of 2021, till then these registries can be a solution to the data lag.

It is important to incorporate the data from state skill mapping registries in the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana which has been actively criticized for not responding to skilling gaps in the country. The MIS of Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana can be supplemented with the data collected by different districts during COVID-19. For example, data collected by Sewa Mitra App (Uttar Pradesh), Mahajobs portal (Maharashtra), Aapulki (Buldhana district of Maharashtra) and many more.

Make data available to policymakers

The National Migration Information System (NMIS) data collected is not accessible to research institutes, academicians or public. Such privacy evades the statistical suggestions and keep government away from criticism. The non-availability of data hinders the improvements and keep the data restricted to certain hands. It makes one wonder why such data will not be given for policy formulation.

YouTube Video of Reverse Migration amidst Second Wave of Coronavirus Pandemic: Challenges and Solutions

Picture Courtesy: Business Standard