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Lack of jobs: Uttarakhand's 68% 'returned migrants' want to go back, says survey

Returned migrants being tested at an entry point in Uttarakhand
By Our Representative
A telephonic survey, conducted among 323 returned migrant workers in hill districts of Uttarakhand, has revealed that even though they have returned from the places they worked – mainly Mumbai, Delhi NCR, other districts of the state and Rajasthan – majority of the respondent (68%) would like go back to their destination places in the absence of employment opportunities in their native places of the state.
Revealing this, Prof IC Awasthi of the Institute for Human Development (IHD), Delhi, participating in a webinar, noting spatial and income disparities between hilly and plain districts in the state, said, of the of 323 the respondents, nearly two thirds were from the Kumaon region and one third from the Garhwal region, with majority of them being male migrants (90%) , and seven out of 10 in the age group 15-29 years.
Major of migration destinations, said the survey, was Maharashtra, mainly Mumbai (39%), followed by plain districts within the state (36%), Delhi NCR (10%), and Rajasthan (7%). Majority were engaged in informal low paid salaried jobs (81%) as cook and waiters, security guards in private companies etc., earning low wages and remunerations. The webinar was organized by the Delhi-based Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI).
Prof Awasthi said, only a small proportion of respondents received benefits from the government, mainly due to lack of awareness of government relief schemes, even though the Palayan Aayog (Migration Commission) had been created by the Government of Uttarakhand to deal with the pandemic situation to rehabilitate the migrants who had returned by offering sustainable livelihood opportunities.
Participating in the webinar, Prof Balwant Singh Mehta, who is with IMPRI and IHD, said, over the last three decades, inter-state migration in the country has gone up almost twice from 27.3 million in 1991 to 42.3 million in 2001 and further gone up to 56.3 million in 2011. The Economic Survey 2016-17 estimated 80 million migrant workers, of which around 9 million workers migrate across states annually.
While pointing out that the state of origin of the migrants is mostly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, with destination states mainly being relatively developed and industrialized Maharashtra, Delhi and Gujarat, Prof Mehta said, as for Uttarakhand, there existed a large number of what are called “ghost villages”. Referring to the official data, he revealed, as many as 734 hilly villages have become “uninhabited” after 2011.
Carved out from Uttar Pradesh in 2000 with an agenda to develop the hill regions of the erstwhile state, he said, even after 20 years of its creation, Uttarakhand’s majority of hill districts still lag behind their plain counterparts and there is huge economic disparity and inequality between the 10 hill districts and the three plain districts. As a result, a large number of people from hill districts out-migrate for better livelihood opportunities to either other parts of the states or places outside the state.
PM’s Gharib Kalyan Rozgaar Abhiyaan with an outlay of Rs 50,000 crore in 116 districts in six states has failed to take into account specificities of hill areas
Prof Mehta said, during the on-going pandemic and lockdown, one saw the images of migrants carrying luggage on heads, starving and exhausted, marching relentlessly only to return to their native places. Two months after the political drama, around 62 millions migrants registered to return, and many of these, who have returned to their native places, face new challenges and uncertain future.
A depopulated village before lockdown
While Prof Mehta estimated that over 1 lakh migrants have returned to hill districts during the last one month, Prof RB Bhagat, head, Department of Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, said, government sources claimed, around four lakh migrants had returned to Uttarakhand, adding, majority of migration is temporary in nature. Around 80% of migrants are from the informal sector, who earned low wages and remuneration without any social security.
While two government officials – Bikash Kumar Malick, assistant director, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, and Dr Manoj Kumar Pant, additional CEO, Centre for Public Policy and Good Governance, Government of Uttarakhand – praised government efforts to deal with the migrants crisis, Dr Arjun Kumar, director, IMPRI, said the Prime Minister’s Gharib Kalyan Rozgaar Abhiyaan scheme, announced on June 20, 2020 with an outlay of Rs 50,000 crore in 116 districts in six states, has failed to take into account specificities of hill areas.
Dr Kumar said, the scheme converges and harnesses many existing schemes, even as offering 25 different kinds of work, but targets the districts which have minimum capacity of 25,000 returned migrants. This, regretfully, excludes the hill districts. He proposed that the minimum capacity should be reduced from 25,000 to 10,000 for hill and northeastern districts, and at least Rs 5000 crore should be provided for hill districts in the PM’s scheme.
Prof Wendy Olsen, head, Department of Social Statistics, University of Manchester, UK, said, going back to villages or hills appears to be some kind of rescue for migrant workers and the belief that they would be safe in such areas after observing the due period of quarantine. She was curious to know how return migrants were sharing the family responsibility, both in farm and home.
Prof Irudaya Rajan, Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, described it a young male-dominated sample survey, though pointing out that most of them were petty salaried persons had not get their dues from their employers during the lockdown period. He called lockdown a state failure with migrants becoming the main victims. 
Among others who participated in the webinar included Simi Mehta, CEO and editorial director, IMPRI; Ramesh Joshi, survey coordinator and secretary, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Action and Research Society (DARS), Dehradun; Prof Utpal Kumar De, department of economics, North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong; Prof Bharat Singh, department of economics, Satyawati College, University of Delhi; and Prof BS Butola, Centre for Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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