Owing to the unprecedented spread of the covid-19 virus, the world has gone into lockdown and the countries and districts have initiated the strict screening of potential cases introduced in their territory. The cases in India have been increasing at an alarming rate in most major cities in India that is in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, etc. The poor health structure in the country has made it difficult to accommodate the rising cases and causes the death of many. The government has made several efforts to curb the spread of the virus, impose lockdowns and restrictions to break the chain of transmission.
However, the fear of complete lockdown, livelihood disruption, community spread of the virus has caused mass reverse migration from the major cities. This has further aggravated the spread of the virus to different parts of the countries and in turn giving a severe blow to the supply chain. The government and various welfare organizations made efforts but in vain to stop these laborers from migrating as they feared for their livelihood and couldn’t afford the city life with their earnings disrupted. Therefore, due to the apprehension surrounding the first spike of covid-19 last year and the fear of lockdown, approximately 1.14cr workers migrated from cities, back to their villages.
Once the lockdown was eased and the economic activities began to pick up last year, it led to the labor shortage in important sectors like manufacturing, mining, retail, and hospitality which are dependent on migrant labor for cheap labor. The MSMEs were worst affected as they were dependent on migrant laborers. Reverse migration caused several problems to the industries, like capacity utilization, affecting supply chains, eroding operating profits, as wages rose and revenues fell. States dominated in manufacturing, such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Delhi with trader bodies estimating that 60-70% of the labor force employed in Delhi left the city during the 2020 lockdown.
Reverse migration further caused the spread of the virus in rural areas and in migration-origin states like Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand from where workers come to metropolitan cities for work. By June 2020, the virus had spread to 98 out of the 112 poorest rural districts, an increase from 34 in mid-April 2020. This disrupted the routine
health services in the villages putting the vulnerable population at a higher risk of even non- covid diseases.
Impact of Reverse migration
Reverse migration has not only impacted the livelihoods of the migrant workers but also their families. The migrants now find themselves in precarious situations. Like stigmatization or discrimination in general or as potential carriers of the virus in the specific pandemic situation, and weaker social capital and social safety nets. The migrant workers moving back from urban areas to rural areas has caused unemployment. A survey (Mohanty, 2020) carried out between July and August 2020, found that 35 percent of returned migrant workers had no work at all, while a staggering 50 percent were paid less than the minimum wage.
Lack of accessibility to credit and vocational training causes a barrier in self- employment. Another reason is that many return migrant workers are either landless or own only small landholdings thus reducing their chances to build livelihoods based on agriculture in the rural areas (Kukreti, 2020). It has also caused food and nutrition insecurity. The pandemic has emphasized the trend of increasing food insecurity and farmers have experienced a decline in demand with growing unemployment levels (Basu, 2020)
Government response measures
The Indian government has also come up with various measures for curbing food security and providing aid to those who have been affected due to reverse migration owing to the pandemic.
The states that experienced large inflows of return migrants were extended the food security scheme (Varma & Anuja,2020) upon demand. MGNREGA provided wage employment by rolling out projects in rural areas to absorb the additional labor force. To make the people self-sufficient or to make them skilled enough to get a better job, skill development plans (Shukla, 2020) targeting return migrant workers in 116 districts were announced, assessing their current skills and re-skilling them according to the needs of job markets, including through apprenticeships.
A large share of migrants turned to agriculture when they returned to their villages during the pandemic, in turn (Narayani, 2020) increasing agricultural activities across the country, while the Indian government ensured access to credit for farmers, aiming to keep agriculture alive during the pandemic. Some employers facing labor shortages have incentivized returnees to come back to their workplace in the cities through advanced payments and free travel, or promising additional benefits and farmers dependent on migrant workers (Jaggi, 2020) subsidized transport costs and increased wages.
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