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  • 05 May, 2021

  • 5 Min Read

Lives versus livelihoods

Lives versus livelihoods


  • Strict to moderate lockdowns are being imposed terminating jobs in many an establishment employing large numbers of informal workers.
  • Of those employed in the informal category, large numbers include migrants who face a bleak future, with job losses, loss of rented accommodations, a lack of sustainable income and savings to ensure food, transportation back to villages or any other emergency including falling victim to COVI-19.

Grim to grimmer

  • Given their bitter experiences last year, migrants have already begun their journeys back to villages, paying exorbitant sums for their travel.
  • No new job opportunities in the rural areas, especially under shrinking National Rural Employment Guarantee Act allotments by the government.
  • The continuing exodus unofficially records figures upward of 4 lakh (Western Railway) between April 1 and 12, while the Central Railways sent back 4.7 lakh migrants, all from Maharashtra, over the last few weeks.
  • With multiple issues of serious suffering on account of COVID-19- related distress, the country has less time to discuss the fate of these unwanted migrants on their path of, fleeing from centres of livelihood toward dark holes of rural helplessness and poverty.
  • The conditions faced by these workers under a ‘curfew-to-lockdown’ status include the immediate termination of their livelihoods in terms of jobs, access to accommodation and near insolvency.
  • That the situations faced by migrants are not a matter of concern in policy making is quite apparent.
  • There has been no attempt to have an official estimate of such flows, either incoming or reverse.
  • Nor has any thought, going by official announcements, been made visible to redress the miseries that await the returning migrants.
  • The recent official announcement of a free ration of 5 kg cereals to 80 crore families is the only sop visible so far.

Cost-cutting exercises

  • The flow provided a reserve army of cheap labour waiting to be hired at wages which, often, could dip lower than the statutory minimum.
  • With the formally organised industry employing as many as one-half or more employees with casual or informal status, it proved rather opportune for enterprises in factories, construction sites and other labour-intensive activities to make use of these migrants in their cost-cutting exercises.
  • On the whole, the presence of the rural migrants benefited the urban economy by providing cheap labour to manufacturing units and cheap services to households.
  • However, these jobs provided did not entail further obligations on the part of the employers or the state, given that the ‘footloose’ migrants never had any legal status as a working population.

No labour safeguards

  • Pieces of legislation, as available, do not provide any evidence of addressing the issue, especially in the current crisis, a pattern indicative of a minimalist state with close alliances with capital in the process.
  • The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 conferred casual labour a legal status by providing a mechanism for the registration of contractors engaging 20 or more workers.
  • While it was never effective, the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 has replaced all such Acts, to regulate the health and safety conditions of workers in establishments with 10 or more workers, the Code has replaced 13 prevailing labour laws.
  • One can raise questions as to what happened to the various laws still operative.


  • It is thus more than obvious that none of the so-called corrective measures was of any significance in relation to what the migrants have been experiencing today since partial or total lockdowns have been imposed over the last few weeks.

Source: TH

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