Explained Ideas: How badly were migrant workers affected by the first lockdown

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With the single-day spike in COVID-19 cases setting records last week, India’s second wave is feared to be longer and more intense than the first one. Many states have announced partial lockdowns and more are likely to follow. The fear of a full lockdown has already led some migrant workers to move back from industrial centres and cities to their native villages.

In this context, a recent study by ICRIER, in collaboration with the Inferential Survey Statistics and Research Foundation (ISSRF), found that migrant workers, who faced the brunt of the pandemic, have not fully recovered from their last year’s experiences.

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Writing in The Indian Express, Ashok Gulati, Shyma Jose and B.B. Singh, all involved with the study, state that the study examined the impact of the pandemic on migrant workers using a survey of 2,917 migrants in six states — Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

“Governments do not seem to have learnt from the experiences of last year’s lockdown, which disrupted supply chains, led to a considerable decline in output growth, increased unemployment, reduced earnings and savings and jeopardised the food and livelihood security of millions of workers in the country. The worst-hit were the migrant workers,” they state.

The study found that the sudden imposition of the lockdown had a severe impact on the earnings and savings of the migrants once they returned to their villages. More than a third of the reverse migrants (38.6 per cent) reported having no work after returning to their native place. With no proper employment opportunity in their native places, the household in- comes of migrants fell by as much as 85 per cent during the first wave.

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With the revival of economic activities post-first lockdown, we found that, on average, 63.5 per cent of migrants from these six states returned to the destination areas by February 2021, while 36.5 per cent remained at their native places. Notably, remigration to the destination post-lockdown was the highest from Bihar (92.5 per cent), followed by Uttar Pradesh and Odisha (65 per cent each). In comparison, migrants from West Bengal (40.3 per cent) and Jharkhand (31.2 per cent) were hesitant to return post-lockdown.

Although the migrant’s household income has increased after re-migration to their destination places, there is still a contraction of 7.7 per cent in their income relative to the pre-lockdown level.

“Moreover, another lockdown — even the fear of one — can upset the momentum of this recovery,” they state. “And, if the migrants decide to return to their native place, their household income could drop by more than 80 per cent, much like what happened after the first lockdown.”



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