Day 7 – Q 3. The mass exodus of migrant labourers and the resulting economic slump have brought in focus the need to create robust institutions that can handle such crises with more deft and compassion. Discuss.

  • IASbaba
  • June 17, 2020
  • 0
GS 3, Indian Economy, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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3. The mass exodus of migrant labourers and the resulting economic slump have brought in focus the need to create robust institutions that can handle such crises with more deft and compassion. Discuss.

प्रवासी मजदूरों के बड़े पैमाने पर पलायन और इसके परिणामस्वरूप आर्थिक मंदी ने मजबूत संस्थानों को बनाने की आवश्यकता को और अधिक उभारा है जो इस तरह के संकटों को अधिक निपुणता और करुणा के साथ संभाल सकते हैं। चर्चा करें।

Demand of the question:

It expects students to write about need of robust institution to keep track of migrant labourers to handle crisis times with more deft and compassion. 


The COVID-19 crisis for India has also become a humanitarian one involving inter-State migrants on return journeys home racked by pain and suffering and no surety of any income going ahead. For a majority of migrant labourers, migration is either a livelihood accumulation strategy or survival risk reducing strategy whichever way we define the nature of migration. 


Field studies indicate that the lead source States of internal migrants are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Tamil Nadu, whereas key destination areas are Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Karnataka. According to a UNESCO study, Surat at 58% has the highest percentage of migrant labour population in India, while the percentage of migrant population is 43% for Mumbai and Delhi.

Need of more deft and compassion towards migrant labourers:

  • Lack of robust data about migrants in real time: According to the Census of India, 2011, more than 450 million Indians (37%) are internal migrants who change their residence within a country’s national borders. About 30% of the migrants are youth aged 15-29 years and another 15 million are children. Women migrants are less represented in regular jobs and more likely to be self-employed than non-migrant women. 
  • Casual and informal nature of work: Domestic work has emerged as an important occupation for migrant women and girls. Facing relentless bouts of gender discrimination at home, and on the farms as wage workers, these migrant women are forced into various forms of servitude in the domestic spaces of affluent city dwellers. 
  • Lack of social security benefits: In between migration and settlement for employment and livelihoods, footloose army of migrants are often denied welfare rights in their destination place and imposed debilitating transaction costs in case they decided to negotiate their citizenship rights.
  • Second class citizen: Lack voting rights, own home, fear son of soil politicians and casual nature of work make them second class citizen. A long pending issue is portability of migrant workers’ voting rights. The Election Commission of India is already working, so time has come to empower migrant workers so that they gather better bargaining power and political voice in the system. 
  • Food and job security: Another urgent issue is portability of the public distribution system (PDS) for migrant labourers and also allowing migrant labourers to use their NREGA job cards in any part of the country. This portability of NREGA will be a great relief, if any migrant labourer is in crisis like the pandemic, he or she can take up NREGA work at the destination site rather than returning home.

Reforms for institutional framework for migrant labourers:

  • The Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 is largely a regulatory law failing to incorporate welfare rights of the migrant labourers. 
  • The most urgent revision is to introduce a National Migrant Workers Commission at the Central level backed up by State level Migrant Workers Commissions. Also, we need to expand the definition of migrant labourer and include next generation skills like IT, mobile repair, financial services related works. Act needs to include provisions for State-supported skill training services for migrant labourers. 
  • The proposal to establish the Migration Commission must interface with and build upon the National Migrant Information System, set up by National Disaster Management Authority, to create a robust and dynamic database for labour mobility in India.
  • The commission must take up the registration of migrants as an urgent task. The lack of a unique worker identification number has prevented frequently mobile inter-state migrants from accessing existing social welfare mechanisms such as the Building and Other Construction Workers board (BOCW). Shramik cards used by states for identification of such workers have provided limited success. A coordinated single national ID for access to multiple benefits could introduce fiscal efficiencies as well.
  • Migration Commission should have powers to coordinate among multiple ministries of the government of India. Deliberations of the Working Group on Migration, which submitted its report in 2017, revealed the importance of inter-ministerial coordination in resolving critical issues. 
  • The Migration Commission must also act as a hub for inter-state negotiations in creating protocols for the safe mobility of labour back to worksites, designing portability features in social welfare and reconciling fiscal issues that arise from portability.
  • Other laws relating to workers must be synergised with the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act. For instance, the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Services) Act, 1996 should be integrated into the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act. And it needs to be implemented by the Secretary of the Migrant Workers Commission.
  • In this digital age, we must stress more digital administrative techniques such as smart cards and leverage JAM— Jandhan/Aadhaar/mobile payment infrastructure for portability of all.


Migrant labourers are a formidable force in India’s economic life. The government must look beyond the lure of political gestures that pacify hurt migrants and those voters outraged on their behalf. Instead, a Migration Commission is an opportunity to craft a well-planned long-term system to manage labour mobility in India.


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