Impact of COVID-19: Reverse Migration in India

A very visible fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic is the reverse migration, which could end up being hard to reconcile with, given the importance of migrant workers to the Indian economy. Following the nationwide lockdown, all commercial establishments have been closed and this has resulted in joblessness and escaping from cities to their hometowns or villages by tens of thousands of migrant workers.

Of the images that haunt me, these are particularly heart-rending — one, that of the little girl who died on the way walking back to her home with her father.

Post COVID-19 lockdowns in India, thousands of daily wage labourers belonging to the unorganised sector have been leaving big cities in droves. They have no other alternative but to return to their villages though their future there is also bleak. Having no public means of transport, many have left on foot to remote places like UP, Bihar, and West Bengal from Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, etc. Some have taken rickshaws to reach their destinations.

Seasonal migration for work is a pervasive reality in rural India. An overwhelming 140 million people are estimated to migrate from rural areas to urban labour markets, industries and farms. Migration has become essential for people from regions that face frequent shortages of rainfall or suffer floods, or where population densities are high in relation to land.

Devoid of critical skills, information and bargaining power, migrant workers often get caught in exploitative labour arrangements that forces them to work in low-end, low-value, hazardous work, and informal market jobs in key sectors in urban destinations, such as construction, hotel, textile, manufacturing, transportation, services, domestic work etc. They form the largest part of India’s vast unorganised work sector.

The cities were built on the hard labour and exploitation of migrant workers, but they never entered the consciousness of the architects; instead, they are considered part of the problem in cities. The political class ignores them because they don’t count as votes, especially in the case of inter-state migrants. Due to their mobile nature, they don’t find any place in the manifestos of trade unions. They spend their whole day on worksites and silently sneak into perilous shelters at night, without the cities even noticing them.

The sudden displacement of migrant labour would have far-reaching impact on the Indian economy and states should be prepared to deal with the consequences of behavioural changes forced by the lockdown. There has to be a holistic approach for the labourers and stress should be given on the rural economy else the economy is going to sink.

Prime Minister Modi has announced special economic package of INR 20 lakh crore ($266 billion) this evening for making India self reliant — Atma-Nirbhar Bharat. This is the time to understand that self-sufficiency is the key and agriculture is its base, so it is very important to return to roots and start working from there. In the meanwhile, both the central and state governments should make some immediate arrangements for food, safety and transport arrangements for these people walking back to their homes. NGOs may be involved and some bhandaras (community kitchens) may be arranged for them.

20 thoughts on “Impact of COVID-19: Reverse Migration in India

  1. Nilanjana Moitra

    The plight of these poor people is very pathetic. I wish that they and their problems were adequately factored in government programmes. I wish the new special economic package also takes them into consideration. They have been left out by every government since independence.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Well said Indro, but it is time for controlling population explosion as well. No amount of economic welfare can work if the population keep increasing exponentially every single day.

    I may sound brutal, apathetic but there’s strong need for forced family planning. 🙏

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, I agree with you 100 percent. Huge population is a problem and there is a need to put a check otherwise the demography which is being touted as dividend will become the sinkhole of economy.
      UN report finds that population growth rate slowed considerably in the 2010-2019 period but the situation in UP, MP and Bihar still cause for concern. India’s population grew at an average annual rate of 1.2 percent between 2010 and 2019 to 1.36 billion, more than double the annual growth rate of China and the US, according to a report by the United Nations Population Fund. According to the report, India’s population have grown at 0.4 percentage points lower in the 2010-2019 period as compared to the decade between 2001 and 2011. There are some states, which are doing excellent in this regard. Maharashtra, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are among the states where the fertility rate has fallen well below the ideal fertility rate. There’s a hope and with more spread of basic education and women’s increased role in the society, things will be better in future.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Manojit Dasgupta

    Our weakness in sound planning and communication gaps is glaring. State Centre relationships at times make it more difficult. We never want to rise above politics.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, you’re right. It’s a pity that we can’t rise above petty politics even during a crisis and poor “invisible” migrant labours are suffering every time as if they belong to nowhere – not in their home state nor in their work state.


  4. Poor people tends to suffer the most when it comes to collateral damage. This was the case even during the 2016 De-monetization. In spite of the plans and schemes, it never percolates to everyone. Well, the country is complex so it is bound to happen.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with you. But we shouldn’t take the complexity as an excuse every time. At least, during crisis we should be able to rise above the differences and include everyone in our effort to get over the crisis.


      1. But the issue of migrant workers was same before also. It’s just that we did not have enough free time to address it nor did media find it interesting ever to place it as a national issue. And I truly believe that this will remain more or less simillar even after the resolution of the Covid crisis.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. They are generally excluded from the electoral system, due to their mobility. In democracy, political parties only see their votes. Therefore, they are historically being neglected. It’s really unfortunate.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely, national brands and industries need to be supported to revive the national economy and also the national industries and brands should own the responsibility of producing/supplying products and services without compromising on quality. The responsibilities lie on both sides: national producers and national consumers.

      Liked by 1 person

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