The 2001 Census reported a total of 314 million migrants in India: with 268 million intra-state migrants and 41 million interstate migrants, with marriage and employment being the two main reasons for migration. The largest in-migration states are Maharashtra, followed by Delhi, Gujarat, and Haryana, whereas the biggest out-migration states are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (ibid). In this article, we explore some innovative migrant-centric interventions carried out by the central government, state governments, and civil society. The primary union government law pertaining to the rights of migrant workers is the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (OSH), and the Code on Wages, 2019. The pandemic induced migrant crisis and has made it urgent to address the complex issue with a more integrated welfare program for migrant workers.
The NITI Aayog’s Draft National Policy on Migrant Workers calls for (i) greater legislative protections for migrants in the unauthorized sector, (ii) better inter-state coordination in the provision of migrant welfare, and (iii) creation of a migrant database for targeted government interventions. One important innovation is the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ which uses a biometric identification system to provide highly subsidized food grains to beneficiaries, especially comprising the migrants, anywhere in the country regardless of their original place of residence. The state governments are responsible for a wide range of policies to empower and integrate migrants into their host populations. In this regard, it is useful to consider the findings of the ‘‘Interstate Migrant Policy Index (IMPEX)’ which ranks India’s states on the basis of their migrant policies across eight areas - child rights, education, health and sanitation, housing, identity and registration, labour market, social benefits, and political inclusion. Kerala, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh secured the highest scores on the IMPEX owing to their migrant inclusive policies.
In 2010, Kerala was the first Indian state to launch a migrant workers welfare scheme covering life insurance, children’s education allowance, and employment termination benefits. Rajasthan secured a good ranking because of the ease with which it provides migrants with domicile status and benefits after 10 years of residence. Andhra Pradesh has signed an MoU with Odisha to jointly track, protect and provide welfare provisions to seasonal migrant workers in their state. The poorer performers on the IMPEX index include Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, which are marked by lower levels of migrant empowerment owing to stricter domicile laws. Civil society interventions have also played an important role in providing immediate relief assistance to migrant workers and grassroots education to migrant children (Kerala) during Covid. In this regard, the pandemic has given cities the opportunity to bring reforms via a holistic approach through digital interventions (such as e-SHRAM), which can be instrumental in troubleshooting urban inequities, whilst ensuring the availability and accessibility of data on migration to aid in improved urban planning and provision of public services.