New Delhi: More than one crore migrant workers returned to their native places during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, labour and employment minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar said on Wednesday.
Responding to a question by Tiruchi Shiva in Rajya Sabha, the minister said, “During nation-wide lockdown amidst Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, more than 1.14 crore Inter-state migrant workers returned to their home-states… Most of the migrant workers have now returned to their workplace and engaged in gainful employment.”
The minister also provided details of how many migrant workers returned to each state. It showed that Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan saw the highest number of returning migrant workers. On the other end of the spectrum, Ladakh, Lakshadweep and Haryana saw the fewest number of workers returning. Gujarat did not provide any data.
However, the individual tally provided by the 36 states and Union Territories did not add up to the 1.14 crore number cited by the minister. Instead, the sum was 1.23 crore.
‘No loss of life reported’
The labour minister once again reiterated that the government does not have any information on the deaths of migrant workers and their family members who died during the lockdown. Responding to a question from Priyanka Chaturvedi and Phulo Devi Netam, Gangwar said that data from Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Meghalaya, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala, Nagaland, Manipur and Andaman & Nicobar Islands shows that there was no loss of lives, “except 17 accidental deaths in Maharashtra”. The latter was presumably a reference to the ghastly incident in Aurangabad, when a train ran over 17 workers who were sleeping on the tracks.
“Information from the remaining States/UTs is being collected and will be laid on the Table of the House,” he added.
A database maintained by independent researchers recorded that between March 14 and June 4, 2020, there were at least 906 deaths due to the lockdown. While not all of these deaths are of migrant workers, those such as deaths on Shramik trains, along with those caused by starvation and hunger are likely to have been migrant workers.
’40 crore workers in unorganised sector’
In another question asked by senior SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav, who wanted to know how many labourers in the unorganised sector lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic following the closure of factories, he said there are 10 crore labourers in the organised sector and 40 crore in the unorganised sector. Gangwar said the government is making efforts and running programmes to shift the unorganised sector workforce to the organised sector.
“Employment generation coupled with improving employability is the priority of the government,” he said in a written reply to a starred question, adding a list of steps taken by the government to generate employment in the country. The measures include encouraging various projects and schemes like the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana, Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission and Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana.
The minister also revealed that the Indian Railways operated more than 4,611 Shramik Special Trains to transport migrant labourers, which helped get 63.07 lakh workers to reach their destinations.
During the monsoon session of parliament in September 2020, the Centre came under severe criticism for saying that it did not have any data deaths of migrant workers during the lockdown or the number of jobs that were lost due to its imposition.