Question :Covid stricken India have witnessed the plight of migrant laborers. Point out the reasons for this and the measures needed to tackle it?
Migrant workers are considered as the backbone of the industrial sector. The disturbing visuals of these migrant workers on the roads and their deaths on the way to native places due to COVID-19 pandemic has put forward the less debated issue of vulnerability of migrants population.
Reasons for the vulnerability of Migrant labourers
The concept of vulnerability can be understood to mean that some people are more susceptible to harm, relative to others, as a result of exposure to some form of risk. The type of harm to which they are more susceptible varies: it may be psychological, physical, environmental, etc. Hence, migrant’s vulnerability is assessed on four factors i.e. Individual factors, household and family factors, community factors and structural factors.
- These factors are related to individuals. Individual characteristics are a central element of vulnerability.
- Some examples of individual factors are age, sex, racial and/or ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, personal history, mental and emotional health, and access to resources such as money, goods or support.
- For instance, U.P. and Bihar male migrants in Mumbai, faced numerous problems such as, money problem, lack of sanitation, no other option to look for help etc. during COVID-19 pandemic.
- Not just during pandemic, but also during normal times too migrant workers and students face discrimination due to factors such as ethnicity, religion, caste etc.
Household and family factors:
- Household and family factors are related to the family circumstances of individuals and their family members, the role and position of individuals within the family, and family histories and experiences.
- Families are important in determining vulnerabilities, as they are typically the first option for individuals who require support, particularly children and young people.
- For instance, many of the cycle rickshaw pullers who work in the big cities, live with their families in the nearby crowded areas. Which exposed the family to sanitation issues, basic amenities availability issue, security issues, less or no education to children issue etc.
- The children and the Women are most prone to vulnerability due to less food availability, lack of sanitation and security.
- Individuals and their families are situated within a broader physical and social community context.
- Communities with strong social networks and access to resources can provide support and protection to individuals and families, whereas communities without such networks and resources can create risk factors for individuals and families.
- Examples of community factors include availability of quality educational opportunities, health care and social services; equal access to resources; livelihood and income-generating opportunities;
- At the broadest level, structural factors are the political, economic, social and environmental conditions and institutions at national, regional and international levels that influence the overall environment in which individuals, families and communities are situated and which shape their beliefs, decisions and behaviours.
- Examples of structural factors include histories of colonization and conflict, political systems, migration policies and governance, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.
- For instance, USA asked foreign students that they will have to leave the USA if their universities hold online classes. Which has affected the students across the globe who are studying in USA.
Institutional measures established to address the vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers
- Unorganised Workers’ Social Security (UWSS) Act, 2008 includes legal entitlements, as it defines the migrant workman as a subset, it provides for contingencies of livelihood loss and it makes the Act legally enforceable.
- The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is a demand-based scheme. MGNREGS provides 100 days of guaranteed wage employment to rural unskilled labour. This scheme addresses the vulnerability of migrant workers by giving them employment in their area of residence.
- The Public Distribution System (PDS) has clearly played a crucial role in preventing the spread of hunger across affected areas preventing the migration from one place to other.
- The Mid day meal scheme has multiple implications as it not just provides the meal to the children but also opens up opportunity for the parents to not to leave the village in search of work.
- Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-dhan Yojana: To ensure old age protection for unorganised workers.
- Atal Pension Yojana: It is a social security scheme launched under the National Pension System (NPS) and aims at providing a steady stream of income after the age of 60 to all citizens of India including the migrants and labourers.
- Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (under the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan): Both of the schemes provide for life insurance and accident insurance respectively to the migrants and labourers.
- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (Ayushman Bharat): It aims at providing health cover to protect the migrants among others against the financial risk arising out of catastrophic health episodes.
The possible ways that can be undertaken
- Around 500 million Indians do not have cards under the National Food Security Act, and not all of them are middle-class.
- Doubling the food rations can be sustained a little longer – at least till the harvest.
- The demand for MGNREGS wages is chronically higher than the supply due to inefficiencies in implementation. Therefore, the increase in wages under the scheme by Rs 20 is the minimum that could have been expected.
- Also schemes need to be formulated to provide education to the children of migrant worker. e.g. Many such schools are run by some NGO’s as “Schools under bridge” in big metro cities.
- To avail the benefits of social security schemes there is need of Aadhar card be attached to the bank account, but many of the migrant labourers still don’t have Aadhar cards.
Migration is a rising policy priority and there is a need to respond equitably to the interests of different section of the migrating population. We cannot blindside such large number of population while formulating policies so that we can avoid the kind of migration crisis observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.