Migrant exodus likely to peak next month, says NITI Aayog affiliate; warns return to cities may take over a year

When will migrants return to the cities? No one knows the answer, but the experts handling the labour issues for decades, believe that only 10 percent of migrant workers have returned to their home states and that the numbers could increase in June and July

Yatish Yadav May 27, 2020 14:31:39 IST
Migrant exodus likely to peak next month, says NITI Aayog affiliate; warns return to cities may take over a year

New Delhi: When will migrants return to the cities? No one knows the answer, but the experts handling the labour issues for decades, believe that only 10 percent of migrant workers have returned to their home states and that the numbers could increase in June and July.

The Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC) — established jointly by the Planning Commission (now known as NITI Aayog) and Indian construction industry — is working with the Central and state governments to devise a plan for migrant workers undergoing tremendous suffering and mental trauma during the pandemic.

The proposal, which will be binding for employers, contains clauses like a safe working atmosphere, higher pay, free nutritious meals, hygienic living conditions and social security for workers as and when they decide to return.

PR Swarup, director-general of CIDC, told Firstpost that migrant workers and families are still undergoing suffering and mental trauma, and a return to the cities is likely to take at least a year. Of four crore migrant workers, barely 10 percent or 40 lakh have managed to return to their homes amid lockdown constraints. Swarup fears that once the Railways begins operating 200 trains from 1 June, a massive exodus from cities to the villages in Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, is likely to take place — which will lead to a slowdown of economic activity, a massive burden on rural areas with fewer employment opportunities and the failure of certain industries.

"We believe that migrants' mass exodus is yet to begin and it will be a deluge after a large number of train services resume. We are preparing for the worse and have submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, outlining certain conditions that employers will have to follow after migrants decide to return. It is a fact that the governments and other stakeholders were not able to address migrants' plight in a humane way. Nevertheless, in the next 15 days, the CIDC network in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand will start counselling sessions with migrant workers to ensure that labour rights are protected and our conditions are accepted by both the sides. Since we act as a bridge, it is our responsibility to come out with a practical solution," Swarup said.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has accepted the proposal drafted by the CIDC and all the contractors under the Central public works departments have been informed about the rules to protect the interest of workers who have decided to stay back. As per the CIDC proposal, skilled labourers will be provided Rs 1,050 per day, the semi-skilled will get Rs 875 and unskilled will get Rs 700. The workers in all three categories are to be provided with spacious individual accommodation along with insurance, medical care and a minimum of three free meals per day, which should be wholesome and nutritious.

"One holiday per week and other statutory holidays to be defined and the worker to be informed accordingly. Workers to be provided onsite training and certification opportunities to up skill with a clear graded career growth plan," the CIDC proposal approved by the ministry said.

Swarup added that the feedback from government contractors and even private developers is overwhelming. He also said that Uttar Pradesh government's proposed idea of a migrant council is a welcome step because it will protect the rights of labourers and they will not have to suffer as they did over the past two months. But unless governments work at the speed of light, it will be impossible to arrest the catastrophe.

Migrant exodus likely to peak next month says NITI Aayog affiliate warns return to cities may take over a year

Representational image. AP

"I fear if the migrant labourers' plight is not addressed immediately, more than 30 percent of Mumbai and 20 percent of Delhi will be vacated and labour-sending states will not be in a position to provide employment to such huge worker populations. As and when they return to the cities, working and living conditions will have to change. We have proposed that employers will be responsible for bearing the cost and arranging their return to villages in case of an emergency or medical calamity like the present pandemic. If they want to stay, employers will have to bear the cost of living. The Uttar Pradesh government's proposal should be seen as that of a migrant protector and must be welcomed by all the stakeholders in all states. We have started contacting the labourers in local language so that they can get in touch with our nodal officers in the states. For the purpose of their return, we will work as an employment exchange in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand," Swarup went on to add.

The Jharkhand state government had received requests from 10.39 lakh stranded migrants since 1 April. And around three lakh have returned to source districts like Godda, Giridih and Palamu. State joint labour commissioner Umesh Prasad Singh said the major challenge for the government is to ensure employment opportunities to skilled workers because temporary arrangements like MNREGA will not be a feasible option for them.

"We are planning a mapping of the migrants returning to the state. Those skilled could be employed in small and medium industries within the state but it will not be sufficient. Another major challenge is to provide jobs to those working as agriculture labourers in other state because irrigated areas in Jharkhand is less and even per day wages in comparison to states like Kerala is very low. In the next two –three weeks we will have proper plan based on complete data analysis. Although number of distress calls to our control room in Ranchi have reduced and workers in state like Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka are likely to stay back but those who are suffering would return to their native villages soon and we need to have a plan to on the ground to deal with this emergency situation," Singh said.

Uttar Pradesh's Amethi, which, according to CIDC, is major source for workers in the construction and manufacturing industries, has started analysing the data of returnees for the purpose of skill-mapping. MK Pandey, assistant labour commissioner, said that his district continues to receive migrants returning from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi since 25 April. Pandey said that the process of skill-mapping around 30,000 workers concluded a few days ago.

"We specifically ask five or six questions mainly about qualification, field of work, total experience, wage per day etc. We are in touch with village heads also to find people who might have skipped the screening process, so as to prepare a centralised database. As of now, we are also providing returning migrant workers with money and food kits for 15 days and in the meantime, we will hopefully work out temporary employment for them," Pandey said.

Meanwhile, the CIDC has sent another advisory to the Central and state governments, and employers for the setting-up of a social security net for workers.

"The aim is to ensure that no citizen of India ever becomes destitute or receives less than required for subsistence, while the rest of the society has plenty and that the cost of wages includes a necessary social security net for the worker," read the CIDC letter to governments and industries.

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