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They have not returned: How Covid-19 has impacted labour migration in the country

The Economic Times, India, 25 September 2021 - The migrant workers’ long walk — from the cities they helped build to their homes in faraway villages — defined the first nationwide Covid lockdown in India. Three crop cycles, half a dozen festivals and two Covid-19 waves later, several lakhs of these workers have still not returned. The pandemic has had a profound impact on labour migration patterns — and this could shape work in rural as well as urban centres.

The rural-to-urban migration is probably at one of its lowest ebbs, say labour ministry officials, consultants and economists ET spoke to. There has been a near-10% decline in blue collar workforce moving to cities for jobs. This is enough to choke the labour supply lines to major industries.

According to the 2011 Census, India has 450 million internal migrants. The number of migrant blue-collar workers — who have moved inter-state — is around 150 million, according to Betterplace estimates.

“The quantum of migration has dropped considerably post-pandemic. People moving to larger cities and metros for work has fallen by nearly 10%,” says Pravin Agarwala, co-founder and CEO, Betterplace, which powers the Aatmanirbhar Skilled Employee Employer Mapping (ASEEM) platform, a directory of skilled workforce of the central government.

This is due to a combination of factors. After the traumatic return home, many workers prefer to stay back with their families and take up local jobs. The government’s rural employment schemes such as MGNREGA and Pradhan Mantri Rojgar Yojana help people earn a livelihood closer home. That apart, an upsurge in rural infrastructure projects, such as roads and highways, health centres and other public amenities, has given jobs to workers. Meanwhile, state governments are also filling up thousands of posts that are lying vacant. Above all, government subsidies and benefits till Diwali and, in some cases, loan waivers have quelled the need for migrant labourers to return to cities immediately.







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