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Post-Covid 80% of male migrants migrated from urban to rural areas: Official data

By Puneet Kumar Shrivastav, Amandeep Kaur* 

The much-needed migration data was collected in the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) for the first time during 2020-21. Throughout the Covid-19-induced first nationwide lockdown in 2020, and even after that, too, migration, migrant, returned migrant, migrant worker and returned migrant worker etc. were the buzzing words.
The ‘Migration in India’ report was released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI), Government of India (GoI) on June 14, 2022. The report highlights that Covid-induced migration, i.e. after March 2020, was 3.1 percent of the total migration in the country. Migration rate for India, the proportion of migrants in total population, for 2020-21 is reported to be 28.9 percent in the report.
A ‘migrant’ is defined as a household member whose last usual place of residence (UPR), any time in the past, was different from the present place of enumeration (POE). UPR of a person is the place (village/town) where the person has been staying continuously for at least six months or his/her intention is to stay there continuously for six months or more then that place was as his/her UPR.
PLFS is a household-based sample survey which is mainly designed to capture the employment and unemployment situation and also provides the detailed information related to the labour market in the country. The survey, has taken March 2020 as the cut-off period in order to capture the impact of covid/ lockdown on migration while fulfilling the wide data gap on migration data.

Estimating the numbers

The first wave of Covid in 2020, followed by a complete lockdown, caused mass movement of migrants from their place of work/residence to their permanent native places facing all the vulnerabilities and difficulties. This created an awkward situation for the government and policy makers.
However, due to lack of realistic numbers of migrants in the country, the immediate proper policy measures could not be taken. A large number of jobless and homeless people started walking on road to reach their native homes without any facilities. Later on, the issues were resolved to a great extent and transportation facilities and raw food material were provided by the government to such migrants.
Considering the total population of India, approximately to be 135 crore as on July 1, 2020, based on the Census of India’s projection, absolute migrants really become a significant phenomenon. The total migrant population estimates in the country stood at approximately 39 crore during 2020-21, of which the Covid-induced migration was estimated to be 1.2 crore, which is again huge in number.
The continuation of lockdown for around a couple of months caused loss of income and livelihood for many and forced them to go back to their native or other places from the place they were working/searching of jobs/residing prior to lockdown.
The PLFS unit level data on migration revealed that 11.4 percent of migrants moved back to their last UPR, i.e., the places where they used to live earlier, during 2020-21. These migrants, estimated to be around 4.45 crore, may be considered as returned migrants.
Moreover, the phenomenon of Covid/lockdown-induced returned migration becomes even more significant, because loss of jobs and lack of opportunities to earn livelihood forced migrants to return to the place which once in a while was their UPR in the past.
The unit-level records also reveal that 53.1 percent migrated to the Place of Enumeration (POE), which was their earlier UPR in the past during the post lockdown period. The number of such returned migrants in the post-lockdown period stood to be more than 6.4 million. Thus, the data deliberates the mass movement of the migrants due to Covid and lockdown.
Within the country, the migration flows are mainly of four types -- rural to rural, rural to urban, urban to rural, and urban to urban. The ‘Migration in India' report highlights that the rural to urban migration for male category remained 53.7 percent during July 2020 to June 2021. However, contrary to this, in the post-lockdown period, the urban to rural migration for male category was reported to be 79.6 percent.
Thus, male migration was much higher in the post-lockdown period from urban to rural areas, which implies that those who had gone to the urban areas for jobs/ in search of jobs had returned to the rural areas due to Covid/lockdown.
The PLFS 2020-21-unit level estimates reveal that 9.16 percent people moved out of their last UPR because of employment reasons. Of this, 4.38 percent was because of transfer, better job employment opportunities and proximity to place of work, and the rest 4.78 percent in search of employment.
Moreover, major chunk of unemployed (54.2 percent) migrated only because of search of employment. The report shows that 42.9 percent of males migrated only because of employment reasons, whereas marriage (86.8 percent) remained the prominent reason of migration for females.

Policy calls

The role of migration in the development process is clearly evident. Migration takes place for both economic and non-economic reasons. The economic reasons mainly consist of search of employment, search for better employment, remittance, better quality of life and access to better services etc. while the non-economic reasons are mainly marriage and education.
Therefore, given the situation and evidences, for engaging such returned migrants into a gainful employment, there is a need for strengthening rural infrastructure and the rural non-form sector. A boost in rural economy is utmost requirement through Aatmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, MGNREGA and other rural development schemes.
As for those who are part of potential labour force but have returned/migrated with the parent/earning member of the family to the rural areas, for them, a call for quality education and employment-oriented skill development should be the top-most priority in rural areas.
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*Dr Puneet Kumar Shrivastav is Assistant Director at the National Institute of Labour Economics Research & Development (Under NITI Aayog, GoI) & PhD in Economics from BHU; Dr Amandeep Kaur is Assistant Professor of Economics at Jaypee Institute of Information Technology, Sector 62, Noida & PhD in Economics from IIT Roorkee. Views are personal

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