• The Population Census of India estimates that there were 450 mn internal migrants in India in 2011. This had risen by 139 million from 315 million in 2001 Census 2011 and 220 million in 1991, a doubling from 1991-2011.
  • India‘s transformation away from agriculture into a rapidly growing economy based on competitive manufacturing and services was facilitated by migration.
  • The fundamental right of free movement is enshrined in clauses (d) and (e) of Article 19(1) of the Constitution, which guarantee all citizens the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and reside and settle in any part of the territory of India.  However, such migration is not without its challenges.

Caste and Migration
According to NSS data, Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are over-represented in short-term migration streams and under-represented in long-term migration streams.

While a substantial portion of migration for all social categories is because of marriage, a high share of both the SC and non-SC/ST categories report migrating for employment.

Apart from economic reasons, Lower caste groups migrate from rural to urban areas to escape from the caste-based discrimination in their source regions.

SC and ST migrants are largely confined to the construction sector due to poor skills and a lack of social networking.

Challenges of migrant workers

Political exclusion of migrants:

  • Migrants do not usually have voting rights in their destination states, which leaves migrants unable to make political demands for entitlements and seek reforms.

Fragmented labour markets and adverse working conditions of migrant workers:

  • A fragmented labour market obscures supply chains and relationships between business owners and workers.
  • The existing gap in the unionisation of migrant workers leads to the precarious nature of their employment. 

Reasons for distress migration:

  • Low economic activities and low minimum wages in Source States.
  • The absence of community-building organisations and administrative staff in source states has hindered access to development programs, pushing people towards migration.

The exploitation of migrant workers:

  • Lack of administrative capacity to handle exploitation issues.
  • State labour departments have little engagement with migration issues.
  • Women from tribal areas are usually trafficked for inhuman activities such as prostitution.
  • Lack of access to safeguards and access to government schemes of destined state

Migration should be acknowledged as an integral part of development and government policies should not hinder but seek to facilitate internal migration.

Recommendations of Niti Aayog in Draft National Policy on Migrants

Rights-based approach

  • This approach towards Migrant workers will lead to enhancing the agency and capability of the community.
  • Enabling the political inclusion of migrant workers so they can demand their entitlements. This will enhance the accountability of political leadership towards the welfare of migrant workers in their respective states.

Setting up inter-state coordination mechanisms

  • A forum should be created between source states and destination states to work with each other.

Special focus on migrant workers

The Ministry of Labour and Employment should set up a special unit for migrant workers:

  • This special unit manages migration resource centres in high migration zones. A national labour helpline should be established.
  • Embedding a migration wing in each state’s labour department.Creation of night shelters, short-stay homes and seasonal accommodations for migrants in cities.
  • Employers to be transparent about their value chains and formalise work contracts with migrant workers.

Strategies to check distress migration:

  • Raising minimum wages in source states brings a major shift in local livelihood, particularly for tribals.
  • Community-based organizations and local bodies should focus on more pro-poor development strategies in the source areas that can strengthen livelihood in source areas.
  • Promoting the role of local bodies to aid migrant workers by maintaining a database of migrant workers, issuing identity cards, provide migration management and governance through training, placement and social-security benefit assurance.
  • Focus on skill development at migration source areas.
  • Measures should be taken to mainstream the education of migrant children under the Right to Education Act.

Portability of government benefits to migrant workers

One of the major challenges faced by migrants (especially short-term migrants) is that they are often denied entitlements and other benefits from the governments after their migration to new places. To overcome this challenge and achieve inclusivity in coverage of government benefits following steps were taken:
One nation one ration card: an option to all eligible ration card holders/beneficiaries covered under NFSA to access their entitlements from anywhere in the country.

PM-JAY: the ability of patients to seek care at any empanelled hospital across the country regardless of their home state – is a key feature of PM-JAY.

Social security code (2020): The code provides the following benefits to the interstate migrants
Option to avail the benefits of the public distribution system either in the native state or the state of employment,

Availability of benefits available under the building and other construction cess fund in the state of employment, and
Insurance and provident fund benefit available to other workers in the same establishment.

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