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Great march of migrants during lockdown: Lessons not learned, missed opportunities

By IMPRI Team 

A panel discussion on “The Great March of Migrants During The National Lockdown: Lessons Not Learned and Missed Opportunities” was organized by the #IMPRI Center for Human Centre for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi on the occasion of International Migrants Day, i.e December 18, 2022. Inaugurating the session, Ms Aanchal Kumari, a researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. The event was moderated by Dr Devender Singh, a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI.
The panellists included Prof. R.B Bhagat, Professor and Head, Department of Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai; Prof Arun Kumar, Distinguished Economist, a Former Professor Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi and Malcolm S. Adiseshiah Chair Professor, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi; Ms Akriti Bhatia, Founder of People’s Association in Grassroots Action and Movement (PAIGAM); Mr Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, ActionAid Association India, and Prof Irudaya Rajan, Chairman, International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD) and a Former Professor, Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Kerala.
Commencing the program, the chair for the session, Dr Devendar Singh set the tone of the stage with an introductory remark by exclaiming about the conditions of migrants during the lockdown. He vocalized the pathetic situations of migrants as they felt ‘alienated’ because of the fear and treatment they were getting from their employers. He further said that the circumstances became more woeful when various migrants, especially old people, pregnant women, and children, had to overcome nature’s elements and flee transporters, policemen, etc. He further stated that India awoke to the migrant movement by raising various questions like why they were leaving, where they were leaving, and many more, and received media coverage as well. He expressed that there were various opportunities as government ask employers and landlords to take care of employees that act as a source of, data collection from them and helped in formulating various policies.
Dr Bhagat started with the positive impacts of the migrant movement he said that there had been the introduction of ‘One Nation One Ration Card’, and secondly implementation of the rental housing scheme. And third, was the introduction of the portal and various skill development programs were introduced and there was registration and tracking of migrants. He further gave various solutions to the problems that migrants faced. He stated that there was an epistemic failure that we were facing as we failed to recognize their place-based identity and further emphasized the importance of ‘where’ in the migration process rather than how and what they were getting.
Prof Arun Kumar emphasized the importance of migration especially the displacement of people from rural to urban areas. He further categorized the migrants into employed and unemployed by bifurcating them into four sub-categories. He focused on the problem of inequality and development paradigm as he said that according to studies of Azim Premji, 90% of migrants in urban areas claimed that they had zero per cent savings and they had to work daily and earn. Due to trickle-down policies organized sector got the most investment as compared to the unorganized and as a result urban areas generated more jobs as compared to rural areas due to which migrants have to move to urban areas. He further answered various questions on ideologies of government behind demand and supply mechanisms as well as the idea behind formulating laws on agricultural bills and also discussed the situations of Bihar in regard to remittance status.
Ms Akriti Bhatia further raised various key issues in respect of hygiene issues such as access to clean water, basic amenities, etc. She said that there was forced formalization as the cost was imposed on them the benefits derived were far less which raised inequality. She further threw light on the gig economy that absorbed an educated and skilled workforce due to underreporting of data. various Alarming issues were reported such as poor sections of the society i.e street vendors were facing forced evictions, domestic workers were being discriminated against by the owners and there was not much increase in public spending, and these migrants had to face discrimination in terms of unequal ration distribution that increase the divide between the small and big economies. Labour laws were forcefully passed seeking race to the bottom to equalize the organized and unorganized sectors but in reality, the results were something else. She further emphasized the pathetic conditions of women during the lockdown by stating that there was a rise in domestic violence and reluctance to join the workforce again after the pandemic.
Prof Irudaya Rajan started by raising concern about the availability of inadequate data on the number of migrants in the country and emphasized on lack of funds for migration studies. He focused on how Kerala tackled the situation of migrants pre, during, and post-pandemic which works as the base for further studies of different states. Migrants faced fears such as lack of food so the Kerala government opened community kitchens with the collaboration of one nation one ration card and contemplates the survey showed that urbanization leads to economic goals via smart cities. Smart cities, in turn, promote migration whereas there were no policies for migrants, and during covid, migrants were treated as carriers of the virus studies showed that only a few were affected and were not the actual carriers of COVID-19.
Mr Sandeep Chachra discussed employment scenarios on employment in urban areas with a focus on public urban engagement. Despite Kerala, five other states made policies on public urban employment and there is still fuzziness about the guarantees that this scheme provided. He raised concern about women’s workforce participation as it was drastically falling before the pandemic and he supported this with the help of a survey conducted with 17000 people that states that wage disparities had been raised during covid and emphasized the need for a fair evaluation of a homogeneous workforce. Frontline workers especially health workers were in the limelight during covid that provides evidence that these informal workers were necessary for the existence of society.
Ending this informative session, the moderator, Dr Devender Singh gave his concluding remarks and discussed various takeaways, and thanked all the eminent panellists for bringing in diverse perspectives. The training program ended with a vote of thanks by Aanchal Kumari on behalf of IMPRI Center for Human Centre for human dignity and development IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute.

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Acknowledgement: Bhanvi, research intern at IMPRI

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