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Poor state of migrant workers during lockdown

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    1st Jun, 2021

The Supreme Court recently remarked the process of registration of migrant workers is “very slow” and it must be expedited so that benefit of various schemes can be extended to them amid the Covid-19 pandemic.


The Supreme Court recently remarked the process of registration of migrant workers is “very slow” and it must be expedited so that benefit of various schemes can be extended to them amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The apex court also observed it is “not happy” with the efforts of the Centre as well as the states on the issue of registration of unorganised workers.


  • The apex court was hearing an application filed by three activists who have sought directions to the Centre and states to ensure food security, cash transfers, transport facilities and other welfare measures for migrant workers who are facing distress due to the curbs clamped in several parts of the country amid the pandemic.
  • The top court said it had last year passed directions regarding the registration of migrant workers. The bench said for extending the benefits of schemes, the authorities must complete the process of registration of these migrant workers in unorganized sector


What is a migrant worker?

  • A person who migrates or who has migrated from one country to another with a view to being employed other than on his own account.
  • Migrant workers are also known to be much more likely to end up in what are often known as the ‘3D' (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) jobs, such as construction, mining or manual scavenging.

What is the pattern of migration?

  • As per the 2011 census, there were 21 crore rural-rural migrants which formed 54% of classifiable internal migration
  • Rural-urban and urban-urban movement accounted for around 8 crore migrants each.   There were around 3 crore urban-rural migrants
  • In 2011, intra-state movement accounted for almost 88% of all internal migration (39.6 crore persons)

What are the challenges faced by migrant workers especially in unorganized sector?

  • Poor implementation of protections under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 (ISMW Act) 
    • The ISMW Act provides certain protections for inter-state migrant workers.  Labour contractors recruiting migrants are required to: (i) be licensed, (ii) register migrant workers with the government authorities, and (iii) arrange for the worker to be issued a passbook recording their identity.  Guidelines regarding wages and protections (including accommodation, free medical facilities, protective clothing) to be provided by the contractor are also outlined in the law. 
    • In December 2011, a report by the Standing Committee on Labour observed that registration of workers under the ISMW Act was low and implementation of protections outlined in the Act was poor.   The report concluded that the Central government had not made any concrete and fruitful efforts to ensure that contractors and employers mandatorily register the workers employed with them enabling access to benefits under the Act.  
  • Lack of portability of benefits
    • Migrants registered to claim access to benefits at one location lose access upon migration to a different location.  This is especially true of access to entitlements under the PDS.  Ration card required to access benefits under the PDS is issued by state governments and is not portable across states.  This system excludes inter-state migrants from the PDS unless they surrender their card from the home state and get a new one from the host state.  
  • Lack of affordable housing and basic amenities in urban areas
    • The proportion of migrants in urban population is 47%.  In 2015, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs identified migrants in urban areas as the largest population needing housing in cities.  There is inadequate supply of low-income ownership and rental housing options.  This leads to the spread of informal settlements and slums.
  • Political Exclusion
    • In a state of continuous drift, migrant workers are deprived of many opportunities to exercise their political rights. Because migrants are not entitled to vote outside of their place of origin, some are simply unable to cast their votes. A 2011 study on the political inclusion of seasonal migrant workers by Amrita Sharma and her co-authors found that 22 percent of seasonal migrant workers in India did not possess voter IDs or have their names in the voter list.
  • Health and Living Conditions
    • The migrant labourers working in unorganized sectors work and live in unhygienic and polluted environment are vulnerable to health problems and sickness
  • Child Labour
    • Children who migrate along with their families are deprived of the free and subsidised educational facilities offered by the state resulting in Child Labour.

What are the steps taken by the government?

  • The Prime Minister Awaas Yojana (PMAY) is a central government scheme to help the economically weaker section and low-income group access housing.
  • Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana with a financial package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore was launched to help poor, needy and unorganised sector workers of the country.  Under this package, 80.00 crore people have been provided 5 Kg. Wheat/Rice and 1 Kg. pulses.
  • Government of India has launched PM SVANidhi Scheme to facilitate collateral free working capital loan upto Rs.10,000/- of one-year tenure, to approximately, 50 lakh street vendors, to resume their businesses
  • One Nation One Ration Card System is an important citizen centric reform. Its implementation ensures availability of ration to beneficiaries under National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other welfare schemes, especially the migrant workers and their families, at any Fair Price Shop (FPS) across the country.


The challenges faced by the migrant labourers are more complex. An analysis of the migrating pattern makes it clear that though the migrant labourers contribute more to India's economy, they are not in a protective and prosperous zone. For any meaningful transformation to happen in the lives of people employed as casual workers, the Government in collaboration with civil society needs to design a variety of interventions ranging from awareness building around the available schemes and services that such a community is entitled to and strengthening community voices for demanding their rights and capacity building.


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