Covid-19 Pandemic and Internal Migration in India- Explained, Pointwise


As per the 2011 census, there are 450 million (38% of the population) internal migrants in India. The World Bank report titled Migration and Development Briefmentions that nearly 40 million internal migrants are affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Further, the Internal migrants in India faced various challenges in their migrated state, migration path and home state.

The Covid-19 second wave is presently forcing states to implement lockdown. This once again highlighted the challenges faced by internal migrants in India.

The amount of Internal Migrants in India

According to the World Economic Forum’s ‘Migration and Cities’, India’s internal migration is growing at 4.5 per cent annually.

The Economic Survey of India 2017 estimates that the magnitude of inter-state migration in India was close to 9 million annually between 2011 and 2016.

  • UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and MP had the highest ‘outmigration’.
  • Maharashtra, Delhi and Gujarat had the largest ‘in-migration’.

Causes of Internal Migration in India
  1. Urbanization: Rural-urban migration is a major characteristic of urban transition in India. The rates of urbanization influence rural-urban wage differences. An increase in the demand for labour in urban areas and better wages increase migration.
  2. Marriage: Marriage is an important social factor for migration. As observed by Census 2011, the majority of the women migration is due to marriage.
  3. Employment: The prime reason for migration from rural to urban areas and urban to urban areas in search of better employment in industries, trade, transport and services.
    • For Example, significant numbers of people from drought-prone regions—e.g. from areas of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra—migrate seasonally to work in brickmaking, construction, tile factories, and agricultural work. Such migration is of both rural-rural and rural-urban streams.
  4. Education: Due to the lack of educational facilities in rural areas, people migrate to urban areas for better academic opportunities. In the 2011 census, about 1.77% of people migrated for education.
  5. Lack of security: Political disturbances and interethnic conflicts is another reason for internal migration.
Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on internal migration

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) report 4.1 million youth lost Jobs during the pandemic.

    • Construction and agriculture witnessed major job losses among seven key sectors.
    • The worst-hit migrant is “vulnerable circular migrants”. Almost 200 million of them were affected by the Covid-19 disruption.
    • Further, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) mentions that three-quarters of these job losses were at small traders and wage labourers level.
      Vulnerable circular migrants: These are the migrants who also have a foothold in rural and urban areas. For example, They might work in construction sites, rickshaw pullers in cities, etc. But when these urban jobs face any issues they will go to their rural areas in search of Job.
    • Migrant workers from the Textile and garment industry and construction industry and other migrants in brick kilns were also affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic induced lockdown.
Impact of the pandemic on internal migrants

Migrants are less familiar with their new environment. So the pandemic caused various social, economical, psychological and emotional trauma on internal migrants.

  1. Associated non-covid death of internal migrants: nearly 1.14 crore migrant workers moved towards their home. This is more than the population of Uttarakhand state. Overall there is at least 971 non-covid death. In that, nearly 96 workers died on trains.
  2. Increased demand in MGNREGS jobs: According to Government data, over 11 crore people worked under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme(MGNREGS) during the financial year 2020-21. This is the first time since the launch of the scheme there were 11 crore beneficiaries. This is due to the returning of internal migrants.
  3. Challenges in the distribution of essential items and relief materials: As there is a lack of credible data or registration of migrants the migrants not received their essential items and relief materials. This is because the last migration survey by the National Sample Survey was conducted in 2007-08.
  4. A rise in the level of inequality: The Oxfam international points out the level of increased inequality due to the internal migrant movement in “The Inequality Virus report”. The migrant exodus worsened the level of inequality further.
  5. Challenges under temporary shelters and quarantine centres: During they move towards their home state they have to cross various states. As each state followed different protocols for quarantine the migrants faced both mental trauma and physical challenges.
  6. Absence of effective laws: As there is no coherent law on the unorganized sector. Migrant workers were not able to demand their rights and entitlements. Further, there is also a Poor implementation of protections under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979. The ISMW Act provides protections for inter-state migrant workers, especially from exploitation. But the Act poorly implemented as the penalties are lower.

Impact of the pandemic induced reverse migration on economy

Indian economy suffered largely due to massive reverse migration(exodus). The impacts include,

  1. The collapse of mini-economies: Migrants remain as a sustainable labour supply in urban areas. The sudden internal migrant exodus changed this drastically. For example, closure of small petty shops in front of urban offices.
  2. Increase in cost of labour: This is witnessed especially in industrialised and manufacturing states. The internal migrants supplemented the local workforce. But since they move to their home state, the high demand for labour increased the cost of labour.
  3. Production delay: India’s GDP aggregate depends on high growth industrial or trade centres. For example, the Covid-19 mask manufacturing unit in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra faced a shortage in labour as the Internal migrants moved to home states.
  4. Stress on MSMEs: The MSME sector that relied on cheap labour and ancillary inputs also faced challenges. Further, there was also a domino effect in the MSME sector due to the hardships of bigger companies.
  5. Framing of local reservation policies: Since migrant workers faced challenges at local, regional and national levels, the states try to protect them by making reservation laws. These laws aimed towards providing reservation for locals in private jobs. States such as Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh tried to implement them.
  6.  Crowded agricultural sector: The migrant workers who lost a job in manufacturing moved to the rural areas and demanded jobs at very low wages. This made the agriculture sector more crowded and also created Stagnation in agricultural wages.


Suggestions for improving the conditions of internal migrants
  • India needs to formulate migration centric policies, strategies, and institutional mechanisms. Such as,
    1. Providing equal or better wages to migrant workers by implementing national minimum wage.
    2.  The government can also explore displacement allowance, home journey allowance, free medical facilities, etc for internal migrants.
    3. Creating present migrant data pool instead of relying on past information like NSSO, Census, etc.
    4. The state governments have to generate decentralised data and enforcement officers for implementing the labour codes, ISMW Act, etc.
    5. The government has to provide amenities and social securities for the migrant population.  For instance, pan India implementation of the Kerala government’s Aawaz health insurance scheme for migrant workers.
  • The government can also assess the implementation of NITI Aayog’s “draft national policy on migrant workers. The important recommendations of the policy are,
    • The Ministry of Labour and Employment has to create a special unit to help converge the activities of other Ministries. This unit would manage migration resource centres in high migration zones.
    • Role of Panchayats:  Panchayats should maintain a database of migrant workers. It would issue identity cards and passbooks to workers.
    • Inter-state migration management bodies should be set up to cover the nation’s key migration corridors: Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai; Bihar and Delhi; Western Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, etc

The world reports points out that India’s internal migration is growing 4.5 percent annually and the urban population is expected to be 50 per cent by 2050 India needs to take care of the situation of internal migrant effectively. But for that, India has to start working on the current data of internal migrants. Further In-depth understanding of the cause and effect of internal migration is the need of the hour.

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