Lack of Policy Focus on Internal Migration in India Comes at Heavy Cost: Report

The report 'Road Map for Developing a Policy Framework for the Inclusion of Internal Migrant Workers in India' has been jointly published by the International Labour Organisation and Indian research institutes.

New Delhi: In the backdrop of the pandemic, a report jointly published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Aajeevika Bureau, and the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development has noted that there is an urgent need to develop an inclusive policy framework to mitigate the vulnerabilities faced by internal migrants in India.

Although India accounts for the largest number of international migrants globally as a source country and thereby receives a fair share of focus both in policy and research, the latest report, Road Map for Developing a Policy Framework for the Inclusion of Internal Migrant Workers in India, however, observes that there has been little to no emphasis on migration within the country.

The report was released on Friday, December 18, coinciding with International Migrants Day. In the post-COVID-19 world, without a robust policy framework, internal migrants, as was witnessed during the lockdown, would continue to remain on the periphery of the society, the report adds.

“A study that covered migrants who returned to their places of origin in 10 states revealed that 95% of them lost all their means of livelihood and only 7% benefited from the efforts to revive their livelihoods through MGNREGS,” the report reveals.

Interstate migration

As interstate migration falls under the Union List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the report calls upon the Central government to initiate dialogue with relevant stakeholders to develop a policy framework. It is interstate migrants who bore the maximum burden – of the lack of availability of work, disposable income for daily needs, and having to escape brutal police pickets while crossing borders on foot – during the lockdown.

Also read: COVID-19 Reverse Migration Calls for Long-Term Rural Development Planning

Towards this effect, the report has put forward five visions for policy covering a range of issues concerning internal migrants:

1. addressing informality;

2. ensuring access to justice;

3. moving towards a universal social protection system;

4. guaranteeing dignified, safe and healthy living and working conditions; and

5. enabling workers’ collectivisation and organisations.

It further notes that crises such as COVID-19 faced by migrant workers make it imperative for the Central government to “universalise Decent Work Agenda” as put forth by the ILO. The decent work agenda mandates governments work towards job creation, rights at work, social protection and social dialogue, with gender equality as a cross-cutting objective.

Lack of focus

The lack of policy focus on internal migration within the country has been attributed to the presence of informal arrangements in which migrants work and due to the absence of reliable estimates on migrants.

Nuances such as temporary and permanent migration have also not been taken into account, as migration is not always permanent. More often than not, temporary migration is witnessed across the country, owing to the availability of work in distant places seasonally.

Also read: How Much Do We Really Know About the Migrants Who Shuttle Between Bharat and India?

An estimate from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) (2007– 08) reveals that temporary labour migration within India is seven times more than permanent migration. This is more so in the case of poorest households or those from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes, where temporary migration is up to 16 times the volume of permanent migration.

“Estimates of temporary labour migration in the country vary from 15 million to 100 million migrant workers, a variance that indicates the ambiguity of the phenomenon,” the report notes.