Universal Living Wage is Urgently Required- Prof. Arun Kumar

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

Migrant workers have been assured multiple times that an economic lockdown will not be imposed and yet photographs have already started to emerge of reverse migration. Given this context, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute and Working People Charter organized a Panel Discussion on Reverse Migration amidst the Second Wave of Coronavirus Pandemic: Challenges and Solutions.The Chair of the session was Prof Arun Kumar, Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Chair Professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, and a Retd. Professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University. The immediate answer to the crisis is universal living wage.

Lockdown vs. Livelihood

Lockdown doesn’t reduce the disease but only prevents people’s movement. This means that the disease remains, but considering that COVID is a communicable disease lockdown prevents the spread of the same. Lockdown then becomes a means to mitigate national disaster. The peak of the disease does not surpass the availability of health infrastructure in the country. 

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India is the worst-hit economy in the world, it is because of the large unorganized sector. This unorganized sector was migrating back from urban to rural areas. There is a need to address the root cause of the problem. The answers lie in understanding where did planning fault first in migration from rural to urban and then visa versa due to lockdown. 

Azemji Premji University collected the Covid-19 Livelihood Survey. The findings are based on a survey of nearly 5,000 self-employed, casual, and regular wage workers across 12 states of India, conducted between 13 April and 23 May in collaboration with civil society organizations. Two third of the migrant population had lost employment and the earnings in the informal sector dropped by half. Livelihoods were not just under strain they vanished with the study locating 80 percent migrants not having enough income to sustain meals for a week.

Starvation hit quickly because state support did not reach in time.

Prof. Arun kumar

Reason for Migration

Large migrant populations are the direct result of a top down policy making approach. The vision was to emulate western urbanization, planning and development, which necessarily translated in a situation where local needs of the people were not accounted for. This resulted in a pro industrial concentrated urbanization policy which strained limited resources which were then located away from the rural areas. 

Eventually there was a marginalization of rural areas which was a direct response of marketization, and technology which was not conducive with the existing level of skills or did not map the specific needs. Black economy did not help the situation. The weak social welfare system coupled with repetitive shocks to the unorganized sector made a bad situation worst. 

Marketization and Marginalization of Migrants

Globalization has grown in phases in India. In 1947 lack of welfare was not the fault of the individual but the system, the state as a collective had to ensure social welfare. In 1991 this policy was reverse the individual became responsible and left at the mercy of the market. Markets have always existed, but marketization is the process where previously things which could not be marketed now became commodities. 

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This marketization results in a position where dollar vote becomes a reality, because an individual can determine the impact of the market depending upon their purchasing power. This resulted in richer states of India with greater purchasing power influencing policy more than the poorer states. This creates the condition of marginalization of the marginal. 

Another macro policy result is the control of financial capital controlling national policies. This financial capital is extremely mobile which keeps nations competing with each other. There is a rush to reduce the tax-GDP ratio, the conditions of welfare availability deteriorate further. This marginalization of marginal is one of the key reasons for migration. The migrant population is in a weak position in urban centers which is being completely at the mercy of the market. 


It is popularly stated that technology creates the myst of the future. When this happens long terms sight becomes difficult. Policies are driven by ‘shortism’. Technology begins to replace labour. Even in agriculture labour elasticity reduces. The investment patterns at this time favored industry which further made labour absorption in agriculture difficult. 

Technology did not only replace jobs in the unorganized but also the organized sector. As the investment is skewed towards the urban centers there is no choice for labour but to migrate to cities to earn their livelihoods. Low skill jobs are also being replaced due to automization and artificial intelligence. 

Black Economy 

Black economy combined with policy failure results in activity without productivity. This lack of productivity hits development. The inefficiency of the system and the flight of capital from the country to tax havens results in fall in investment rate and the incremental capital ratio falls down. This invariably results in a situation where the potential rate of growth is not achieved. Black economy skews distribution of capital towards profits at the cost of wages. There is a systemic inequality which is the result of the disparities. 

Shocks to the Organized Sector 

The macro conditions make the unorganized sector a residual sector of the economy. The weakening of the unorganized sector but its impact on rural and agriculture economy. Unorganized Sector its impact on rural and agriculture economy. The shift of investment lead to a demand shortage of unorganized sector ultimately resulting in a decline of unorganized sectors. 

The government has chosen to neglect the condition of the unorganized sector and the plight of the workers because they do not want to change policies. This further leads to the marginalization of the migrant worker. This further deteriorates the agriculture and rural economy leaving the people with no option but that of migrants. 

Universal Living Wage

The only coherent policy which can actually result in any form of change for the migrants will be the one that take a bottom up approach. Meanwhile there is a need that the government understands that livelihood is necessary for human dignity and that makes universal basic income absolutely necessary. With the complete neglect of rural and agricultural economy the unorganized sector depleting there is no other livelihood option available at the current skill level of the population. 

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