Skip to main content

Top-down policy-making approach? Reverse migration amidst second Covid wave

By Arjun Kumar, Ritika Gupta, Sakshi Sharda* 

Migrant workers have been assured multiple times that an economic lockdown will not be imposed and yet photographs have already started to emerge of reverse migration. Given this context, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) and Working People Charter organized a Panel Discussion on Reverse Migration amidst the Second Wave of Coronavirus Pandemic: Challenges and Solutions. The chair of the session was Prof Arun Kumar, Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Chair Professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, and retired professor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Other panelists included Irudaya Rajan, Chairman of the International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD) and Professor, Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Kerala; and Akriti Bhatia, founder, People’s Association In Grassroots Action and Movement (PAIGAM).
The moderator for the event Tikender Singh Panwar, former Deputy Mayor, Shimla and Senior Visiting Fellow, IMPRI, set the tone for the lecture quoting Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) economist Mahesh Vyas: “Tragedy seems to be unfolding again as Covid inflictions have risen, Vaccines have run into shortages, governments have started implementing smaller lockdowns and are speaking of large lockdowns. As result sections of labor are suspicious for their livelihoods again. Migrant labor is as vulnerable for livelihood as it was a year ago.”
Panwar pointed out that migrant livelihoods are in danger yet again. This jeopardizes the 30 years of the Lassiez-Faire planning system. The key question remains ‘What cities are we building?’. Our civilizations have been civilizations of migrants. At this time it seems as though all city resilience indices have failed. Surat the city which was seen as a model for urbanization could not account for 24 hours for its migrant populations. Indian cities are hubs for inequality which is the result of flawed planning. “We will live on Roti and Salt, but we will not come back”, he said.
IMPRI researchers located for the audience the context of the problem by an eagle eyes view of the context of migration in the country and linking it with the rising Covid-19 cases. The presentation began with explicating the current caseload in the country, the details of myriad forms of lockdowns, and the site of the mass reverse exodus of migrants. Following this, details of the glaring absence of data on migrants during the pandemic were explicated.
They compiled a set of social security schemes for the migrants in the first lockdown and the response of government policies so far. The small introduction was wrapped up by speaking of a welfare approach which located for migrants human dignity by first understanding the quantum of the concern. Then ensuring the health, safety, nutrition, and livelihood to this forgotten population of cities.

Lockdown vs livelihood

Lockdown doesn’t reduce the disease but only prevents people’s movement. This means that the disease remains, but considering that Covid is a communicable disease lockdown prevents the spread of the same. Lockdown then becomes a means to mitigate national disaster. The peak of the disease does not surpass the availability of health infrastructure in the country.
India is the worst-hit economy in the world, it is because of the large unorganized sector. This unorganized sector was migrating back from urban to rural areas. There is a need to address the root cause of the problem. The answers lie in understanding where did planning fault first in-migration from rural to urban and then visa versa due to lockdown.
Azemji Premji University collected the Covid-19 Livelihood Survey. The findings are based on a survey of nearly 5,000 self-employed, casual, and regular wage workers across 12 states of India, conducted between April 13 and May 23 last year in collaboration with civil society organizations. Two-thirds of the migrant population had lost employment and the earnings in the informal sector dropped by half. Livelihoods were not just under strain they vanished with the study locating 80 percent of migrants not having enough income to sustain meals for a week.
Large migrant populations are the direct result of a top-down policy-making approach. The vision was to emulate western urbanization, planning, and development, which necessarily translated into a situation where local needs of the people were not accounted for. This resulted in a pro-industrial concentrated urbanization policy that strained limited resources which were then located away from the rural areas. 
Eventually, there was the marginalization of rural areas which was a direct response of marketization, and technology which was not conducive to the existing level of skills or did not map the specific needs. The black economy did not help the situation. The weak social welfare system coupled with repetitive shocks to the unorganized sector made a bad situation worst.
There have been no national announcements this time. Chief ministers have taken the role PM, announcing lockdown in states
Prof Irudaya Rajan took upon himself the task to locate for the audience the coming future of migrants. He pointed that speaking about the second wave as in the future is a futile exercise because the second wave has already begun. The prediction is India will have a caseload ranging from 5 lakh to 8 lakh cases per day and 5,000 deaths for the coming month, to say the least. It is a condition of helplessness where most of the population is directly or indirectly affected by the virus itself.
Last year in March the Prime Minister of India has announced a national lockdown with less than 500 cases in India. There have been no national announcements this time. Chief Ministers have taken the role of Prime Minister and have announced lockdown in their own states or specific districts. Karnataka being the latest state to announce the same, even one state in lockdown will affect the migrant worker. One state in lockdown is the country going under lockdown because movement is hampered.

No lessons from lockdown 1.0

If the conditions don't improve the announcements of states announcing lockdown will continue. This chaos in national response only increases experiences of uncertainty. We have failed to protect migrants in the Covid wave. The response that has been repeatedly called for is cash transfers which a few states have done for the meager amount of Rs 1,000. No policy has the desired impact because there is no comprehensive data available.
This lockdown impacts both inter-state and inter-country migrants. This is a question of the movement of 200 million people with no social security net and complete absence of any means of livelihood. There was no assistance to the migrants and the Shramik trains charged migrants to return to their home states. These trains were popularly referred to as the Corona Express. Starvation hit quickly because state support did not reach in time, said Prof Arun Kumar.
Migrant bodies were reduced only to be the carriers of the Covid-19 virus. The government of India kept asking the migrants to stay where they are, with no assistance and no means of livelihood. The branding of the migrants as the carrier of the virus continued. Akriti Bhatia pointed out that the government apathy and continuous neglect by media is criminal. The gated cities, hospitals and people makes a condition where the cheapest lives become that of the migrant.

Vaccination policy

The vaccination policy at this time has been in utter chaos. The caccine, a life-saving necessity has been phased in its availability. The priority first was health workers, followed by the age group above 45 years of age. The country is now debating monetizing the vaccines at the price of Rs 150. The concern for the population that was going to travel was completely absent. Increasing public transportation at this response is only to encourage the loss of livelihoods and the government only needed to sustain the population with cash transfers.
Migrants have not been located as stakeholders in the vaccination drive. Had this been accounted for the second wave of the virus could have been prevented. They are as much as front-line workers, they have been preparing food, sanitizing the city, working as domestic help. They became carriers of the virus because they were forgotten as city makers and were not accounted for in policy decisions. Tamil Nadu has announced that from May 1, 2021, the vaccination drive will focus on the migrant populations.
The vaccination policy needs to account for the varied conditions and varied demographics of the migrant population. Will the policy account for the treats of regionalism and vaccine nationalism? A lot of cross-border migration also takes place, policy must account for the same. Akriti Bhatia pointed that looking at migrants as a homogenized body could lead to greater devastation.

Way forward

Prof Irudaya Rajan suggested that the least the government can do at this time is to provide the migrants with MGNREGA wage of Rs 200 per day. The response of the Delhi government to provide Rs 5000 to construction workers disadvantages the other sections of migrant workers. These payments must be in the form of advanced payment which can help solve the disability of the migrants.
Sadly, this wave of the virus migrant crisis will take a back seat when there is a scarcity of resources. All major urban centers have their health care infrastructure failing with an acute shortage of beds, oxygen tanks, required medication. Given these conditions, the overflowing crematoriums only make the conditions worst.
Akriti Bhatia emotively voiced the concern that there is no dignity attached to the lives of the migrants and they are only reduced to be carrier bodies. There is a multiplicity of crisis, the regressive labor laws that have been passed disappear the migrant voices even further. No relief is actually reaching due to obsession with technology, documentation, and registrations.
Prof Arun Kumar spoke of the need for a long-term solution that incorporated an understanding of the issue at hand. These answers cannot be located without understanding the precarious nature of migration itself. We are still not speaking of development that percolates down from the Adanis and Ambanis.

Comments

TRENDING

North Gujarat gram panchayat bars villagers from dealing with Muslim hawkers, traders

By Our Representative  A gram panchayat in North Gujarat has barred its residents not to buy anything from Muslim traders and hawkers. An order of the Waghasan group gram panchayat of Tharad taluka of Banaskantha district dated June 30 states that the decision has been taken in the wake of beheading of a Hindu tailor after he posted a derogatory writeup on Prophet Mohammad in Udaipur. The gram panchayat resolution says, anyone seen buying or selling any commodity from a Muslim hawker or trader would be fined Rs 5,100. Bringing this to light, Mujahid Nafees, convener, Minority Coordination Committee, in a letter to Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel, says, the state government should take legal action against the panchayat chief who has signed the “unjust” order. The letter says, the act of the sarpanch and other signatories is a violation of rule of law of the state and threat to peace, pointing out, the move is in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution, which says that none

Technocratic globalism, tyranny? Health Ministry warned: bill to 'enslave' Indians

Sandeep Pandey, Tushar Gandhi By Rosamma Thomas*  Union of Concerned Citizens, a group comprising Magsaysay Award winner Prof Sandeep Pandey, human rights activist Tushar Gandhi, former judge of the Bombay High Court BG Kolse Patil, pediatrician Dr Jacob Puliyel and several renowned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister cautioning him against tabling the draft Public Health Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. “The Public Health (Prevention, Control And Management Of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism And Disasters) Bill, 2017 and a Prospective Bill of 2022 as discussed in news articles, is straightforwardly violative of Fundamental Rights of the citizens of India and therefore, Ultra Vires of the Indian Constitution. It contravenes several International Treaties and Conventions including the Nuremberg Treaty of 1947 which was enacted to ensure that no country would repeat such inhuman medical atrocities on fellow human beings”, the 12-page letter reads. “Strangely, t

Unlike Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India: Ukrainian scholar tells 'Indian friends'

Counterview Desk In an open letter to "dear Indian friends", Anastasia Piliavsky, born in Odessa, Ukraine, studied at Boston and Oxford Universities (on a Rhodes Scholarship), and now teaches at King’s College, London, has said that she faces "deep moral dilemma", personally and professionally, over the "astonishingly unified Indian response to the war in Ukraine." Based on her interaction with a "number of thoughtful and caring Indian friends", in this letter, she says, she is "reeling at the ubiquitous silence at, justifications of or outright support for Putin’s terror, which now prevails in India, at the ubiquitous #IStandWithPutin and #istandwithrussia hashtags." She insists, India must understand, "Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India. Soviet leaders, beginning with (the Ukrainian) Nikita Khrushchev – who declared hindi rusi bhai bhai – built up deep political and cultural exchange with India." Text : I

PLFS data: Is rising employment good news? Deeper analysis suggests contrary results

By Ishwar Chandra Awasthi, Puneet Kumar Shrivastav*  Results of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 2020-21 , released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India (GoI) on June 14, 2022, show improvement in work force participation rate (WPR) and labour force participation rate (LFPR) and declining unemployment rate. Four rounds of data have been released from 2017-18 to 2020-21 based on PLFS. The general trend in the last four rounds clearly shows consistent increase in WPR and LFPR and falling unemployment rates by usual status (PS+SS). Though increase in WPR and LFPR is reported highest in 2019-20 over 2018-19, yet rising trend in these two key indicators continues throughout, and similarly fall in unemployment is registered highest in 2019-20 over 2018-19. Clearly, the recent results give some solace and relief after unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic that has entailed enormous loss of human lives and livelihoods and crippled economic activit

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Drop all falsed charges': 150 citizens demand early release of AltNews co-founder

Counterview Desk  About 150 concerned citizens have demanded the release of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of the fact-checkng newsportal AltNews, arrested over a 2018 tweet which allegedly hurt religious sentiments, even as booking for criminal conspiracy and having received foreign funds in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Denied bail last weekend and sent to 14-day judicial custody, the concerned citizens, in a statement, regretted that while the Delhi High Court issued notice to the Delhi police on a petition filed on behalf of Zubair challenging the legality and propriety of his police remand and the seizure of his electronic devices, the “frivolous case” continues. Excerpts: The illegal arrest of Mr. Mohammed Zubair happened on June 27, 2022, by the Delhi Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity over a tweet from 2018. The IPC Sections included 153(a) (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race,

Chennai residents 'suffering': Faulty design, implementation of storm water project

By NS Venkataraman*  The Greater Chennai Corporation is now implementing storm water drainage project in 559 roads, covering a distance of 1033 kilometres, which cost around Rs 4,070 crore. For this massive project, which is targeted to be completed between April and September this year, huge loan has been availed from World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others. Several technocrats have pointed out that the project has been designed with outdated technology and quality of the implementation is so poor that the residents have been put to great hardships. As part of the project, digging of the road has been done to around 5 to 6 feet deep and width of around 4 to 5 feet. The drains are being constructed using steel reinforced cement concrete with two walls on either side with provisions for manhole, chute etc. This has been done in front of several houses leaving little space between the gate of the house and that of the drainage structure. As the work has been going on for mor

Prime Minister's 'affordable' housing policy fails to help Gujarat slum dwellers: Study

By Rajiv Shah  A new study on the implementation of one of the major policy initiatives for the urban poor by the Narendra Modi government after it came to power, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), has said that in Gujarat, which happens to be the Prime Minister’s home state, has quoted state officials as “confirming” that no progress towards tenure regularization, a key requirement for providing housing to the state’s slum dwellers. Stating that this particularly true of smaller town, the study, carried out by the non-profit Homes in the City (HIC), which is based in Bhuj, district headquarter of Kutch that saw a devastating earthquake in 2001, says, the failure to provide affordable housing is there despite the fact that there has been “significant demand” in all the 83 out of 153 Gujarat municipalities studied by experts involved in the study. According to the study, out f a total of 1.41 lakh demands for housing under the Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) category, 94,232 (66.7%)

'Contractor-official nexus led to RTI activist's murder': Fact-finding team seeks probe

Courtyard inside of PWD office where Ranjeet Soni was killed Counterview Desk  A fact-finding team* visited Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh (MP) on June 19, 2022 to meet with the family of Ranjeet Soni, who was shot dead on June 2, 2022 inside the premises of the PWD office in Vidisha. The objective was to gather information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ranjeet Soni and his work on exposing corruption through the use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. A report prepared by the team members says that Ranjeet had been extensively using the RTI Act to access information from the government, and upon receiving documents showing misuse of public funds or corruption, he was filing complaints to various authorities including the Lokyukta, Publi Works Department (PWD) and the Chief Minister’s Office. It notes, Ranjeet used to work as a contractor and often undertook government works in collaboration with other contractors, including those being investigated for his murder. A f

Electricity Bill: Centre's reform measures contain 'carrot and stick package' for states

Counterview Desk  The Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Public Services (PCPSPS), claiming to be a network of eminent academics, jurists, erstwhile administrators, trade unionists and social activists, seeking consultations with stakeholders with those who are against the government’s decision to monetise, disinvest and privatise public assets/enterprises, has said that the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill-2022 will have far-reaching impacts on the finances of states. Insisting that the proposed Bill would lead to “assault on India’s federal structure”, in a statement, it says, it would weaken the finances of states’ power distribution companies, have adverse impact on utility employees, cripple the states' finances, impose a heavy cost burden on the smaller subsidized consumers (especially farmers), and benefit only corporate business houses. “States cannot afford to ignore the far-reaching implications of the Bill on their economy, finances, agricultural and industria