Fast-track database on migrant workers
On March 24 last year, the government announced a national lockdown to halt the spread of Covid-19, and thousands of migrant workers, stranded in their host cities without employment or adequate shelter, started walking towards their home towns and villages. This mass departure of workers exposed an uncomfortable truth: The Indian State does not have a reliable record of migrants, hindering distribution of relief material. This oversight has continued for decades despite the Interstate Migrant Workmen Act of 1979, which regulates the conditions of service of circular migrant workers; mandates the registration of contractors who employ migrants; and also requires employers to maintain a record of their workers.
Responding to the crisis, the Centre announced a series of programmes. In March 2020, it announced that 800 million beneficiaries would be provided an additional five kg of wheat or rice and a kilo of pulses, free of cost every month till November; unveiled a plan to employ returning migrants in some states; launched a skill-mapping programme; and promised to fast-track nationwide portability of ration cards. Significantly, the government announced it will carry out an all-India survey of migrants and launch a national database of unorganised workers. This survey needs to be fast-tracked because this will give a clearer picture of work-related migration, its seasonality and the policy gaps. In addition, the government must focus on ensuring portability of social protection schemes and ensure that employers are held accountable for the work conditions of the workers. Only a comprehensive policy can ensure that the migrant crisis is not repeated.