From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : One Nation One Ration Card project
Mains level : Paper 2- Policy for migrant labourers
Repeated surveys have found that the incomes of migrant households continue to be lower than pre-pandemic levels, even after returning to cities.
Lack of policy for migrants
- In the wake of a nationwide lockdown, India was left shocked by the plight of migrant workers walking hundreds of kilometres.
- They became the focus of large-scale relief efforts by governments and civil society alike.
- The Government ramped up the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) project, announced the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHC) scheme, set up the e-Shram portal and began to draft a migration policy.
- Despite this, a cohesive migration policy guidance remains elusive.
- Contribution of migrant workers: Today, a third of the nation’s workforce is mobile.
- Migrants fuel critical sectors such as manufacturing, construction, hospitality, logistics and commercial agriculture.
- Despite clear economic and humanitarian reasoning to bring migrants back into the policy discourse, the current policy scenario is at best fragmented and at worst waning.
1] Politicisation of issue and fragmented policy response
- Migration is a highly politicised phenomenon in India.
- ‘Destination States’ experience a tension between economic needs, which require migrant labour, and political needs, which promote nativist policies that impose domicile restrictions on employment and social security.
- On the flip side, the ‘sending States’ are highly motivated to serve their “own people” because they vote in their source villages.
- This fragmented policy response to internal migration follows from State-specific calculations.
- Development policy in India has bet big on rural development as an antidote to migration.
- This widespread ‘sedentary bias’ continues to influence policy even though migration is an important pathway for impoverished marginalised rural households to find economic security (and social emancipation).
2] Categorisation challenge
- Migrants are a perennially fuzzy category in policy discourse, located inside two larger categories: the unorganised worker and the urban poor.
- Even the e-Shram portal, which has made impressive progress in registering unorganised workers, has been unable to accurately distinguish and target migrants.
- Policy interventions in major urban destinations continue to conflate the urban poor with low-income migrants.
- Hence, slum development continues as the primary medium for alleviating migrant concerns, while in reality, most migrants live on worksites that are entirely out of the policy gaze.
3] Gaps in the data
- Migration policy discourse is seemingly paralysed by the now well-acknowledged failure of official datasets to capture the actual scale and the frequency of internal migration in India.
- Data systems designed to periodically record only one spatial location have posed great challenges to welfare delivery for up to 500 million people who are part of multi-locational migrant households.
- The novel coronavirus pandemic has placed a sharp focus on problems such as educating and vaccinating those children who accompany their migrant parents, or ensuring that migrant women avail maternity benefits at multiple locations.
Way forward: Strategic policy guidance by Centre and a platform for inter-State coordination
- Policy in India often emerges from the ground up, taking decades to cement into national law and standard practice.
- We have seen this in education and food security.
- State’s initiatives: In migration too, many States have initiated data projects that can track migrants and generate dynamic real-time data that aid welfare delivery.
- Maharashtra’s Migration Tracking System (MTS), Chhattisgarh’s State Migrant Workers Policy is premised on registering migrant workers at source and tracking them through phone-based outreach systems.
- Multisectoral approach: There is further need for multisectoral approaches underpinned by a strategic convergence across government departments and initiatives.
- Odisha’s Planning and Convergence Department, which offers an institutional mechanism for inter-departmental coordination, is one possible model.
- Important role of the Centre: State-level political economy constraints make the Centre’s role particularly crucial in addressing issues of inter-State migrant workers at ‘destination States’.
- The NITI Aayog’s Draft Policy on Migrant Workers is a positive step forward.
Strategic initiatives to provide migrants safety nets regardless of location as well as bolster their ability to migrate safely and affordably must keep up the momentum toward migrant-supportive policy.