Migration for work is an inescapable reality in India. Approximately 120 million people are estimated to migrate from rural areas to urban labour markets, industries, and farms in search of employment. Migration has become essential for people from regions that face frequent shortages of rainfall or suffer floods or socially backward areas. Poverty, lack of local options, and unemployment has become the trigger and the pull for rural migration respectively.
India is rapidly developing and needs huge infrastructure development to sustain its growth and Indian companies are working on hundreds of huge projects like Special Economic Zones (SEZs), power plants, airports, railway corridors, highways etc. Considering huge population and the strong potential for industrialisation there is further growth in construction to expect.
The Problems, Highlighted by COVID Pandemic
Labourers migrate from the villages, escaping from poverty and disease at home are lapped into a labour economy that is characterised by exploitative labour practices, unsafe working environments, inhuman living conditions with little access to basic amenities and almost complete social exclusion. Seasonal nature of work and little or no work security and income variation along with the fluctuations in the demand for labour add to their difficulty. These conditions affect their families also, when entire family working on the construction site (women and children), with no education and health facilities.
Migrant Labourers are pushed to the peripheries of the city, both spatially as well as in the fancies of urban planners, they slip through the cracks in the urban development and housing policies. These policies remain disconnected from the country’s socio-economic reality of growing rural-urban migration, where 120 million Indians are seasonal and circular labour migrants. Their exclusion from the city and deplorable living conditions becomes another site of marginalisation.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has clearly highlighted the plight of the migrant workers in the country; however, it cannot be denied that the migrant labourers have been the most neglected and vulnerable section, who contribute so much to the economy, but fail to inhibit decent homes and have access to basic services and nowhere fit in the Government Policies and Programmes.
Failure of Government Policies
Despite the vast numbers of migrant workers, the policies of the Indian state have largely failed in providing any form of legal or social protection to this vulnerable group. They are left out of the scope of state provisions at both the origin city or village and the destination city or village. The hardships of migrant workers are especially magnified when state boundaries are crossed. They are also usually off-limits of government and private initiatives, because of their inability to carry entitlements along as they move.
The urban labour markets treat them as invisible when it comes to providing basic entitlements such as decent shelter, fair priced food, subsidized healthcare facilities or training and education, but extracting hard labour from them.
The legislations which aim to safeguard the migrants are obsolete and not enforced everywhere.
Policies in favour of Migrant Labours may be a step in the right direction, but a serious constraint in framing an effective policy is the lack of credible data on prevalence of seasonal migration. Census and NSS that have a significant impact on policy making are unable to capture migration. They are unable to participate in the formal electoral system and are denied their right to vote.
Migrants form the largest part of India’s vast unorganized work sector. Their entry into the labour markets is marked with several endemic disadvantages. 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.
Solutions to transform migration into a more dignified and rewarding opportunity are the need of the hour. Without this, making growth inclusive or the very least, sustainable, will remain a very distant dream for India.
Inclusive Planning for Migrant Labourers
It cannot be denied that urban growth has been exclusionary and exploitative for migrants, leading to the reproduction of poverty and socio-economic inequalities at the work destinations. It is extremely necessary to tackle immense challenges posted by unanticipated Covid-19 pandemic, and also move towards migrant-inclusive cities in its aftermath.
Suggested Strategies for Migrant Inclusive Planning of Vities:
Housing: State governments and employers must ensure basic facilities including housing, water, sanitation, and healthcare for migrant workers who fuel cities growth. The provision of these facilities, as well as standards for their adequacy and quantity must be set through executive orders, which can form the basis of future legislations. Regular monitoring should ensure the standards and the criteria are met.
Converting government-funded housing into affordable Rental Housing through ‘public-private partnership’, by outsourcing the construction and management of the complex to a concessionaire. Incentivising manufacturing units, industries, institutions, associations to develop and operate the ARHs on their own private land may be encouraged.
Mapping of Migrant Hotspots (Industrial areas, construction sites, etc.): Migrant clusters in cities should be mapped and included to form migrant-sensitive urban policies. The state should ensure gender-friendly public sanitation services, migrant hostels (ensure safety from evictions, extreme weather, harassment by the public or landlords, and hazardous living conditions at worksites), skill up-gradation centres, common childcare facilities in migrant clusters.
Health Facilities: Promote migrant-sensitive health policies, legal and social protection and programme interventions that incorporate a public health approach and that can provide equitable, affordable and acceptable access to essential health promotion, disease prevention, and high-quality health services. Health and childcare schemes should be de-linked from domicile. Facilities for conditional cash transfers and other non-cash benefits for health should be available.
Urban health centres must be made sensitive to migrant communities, be flexible with timings, must cater to different linguistic groups, and remove all burden of documentation from migrant communities. Outreach in migrant clusters through ASHA and ANM workers for health screenings are essential steps for their inclusion in existing systems.
Employment and Skill Development: Full time Employment schemes and new up-skilling programmes should be encouraged to ensure livelihood. Urban local bodies can set up Women Resource Centres for their skill upgradation, along with counselling and support for reporting cases of domestic violence or sexual harassment.
In conclusion, it is imperative that the processes of urban planning and policy recognize migrants as a legitimate part of the urban community who are in need of critical public services. Migration is an integral part of the development challenges shaping patterns of urban growth as well as the economic, social and cultural vibrancy of cities. The flow of money, knowledge and ideas between destination and origin cities can catalyse innovation and development at both ends, potentially making migrants key players in city growth, resilience and sustainability. The public and policy attention to their issues needs to be leveraged to enable a radical re-envisioning of the notions of citizenship and universal access to social rights, so that migrant labourers are offered hope, equity and dignity in their endeavours to stake claims in our urban spaces. The opening up of work limitations for women, the “one nation, one ration card” scheme, universal minimum wage, concessional rental housing and the conversion of government-funded housing into affordable rental housing complexes are steps in the right direction. However, to ensure that these schemes reach their intended beneficiaries, we need a critical appraisal of the current conditions of migrants. It is our responsibility as a society to ensure that the people who build the city can find a home and opportunities in it; not through charity but by giving them the opportunity to make this economic transition without being dehumanised.
About the Author : Aakriti is a Civil Engineer and Urban Planner (specialization in Housing), from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi (Batch of 2020). Her experiences cover assignments in Housing Options and Strategies, Real Estate Market and Feasibility studies, Housing Development, Project feasibility, Governance, and Policy planning. She is an Urban Planning and Public Policy enthusiast who believes in the power of data-driven innovations for sustainable urban development.
- https://www.aajeevika.org/assets/pdfs/Unlocking%20the%20Urban.pdf– Aajeevika Bureau 2020
- https://www.who.int/docs/promoting-health-of-refugees-migrants-framework-and-guiding-principles.pdf– Promoting the health of refugees and migrants
- https://ajph.aphapublications.org/ –The Need for Effective and Comprehensive Planning for Migrant Workers; Jose Angel Fuentes, M.P.H.