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Companies are tempting migrant workers to return to the cities with offers of a better work environment and higher wages. (PTI)
Companies are tempting migrant workers to return to the cities with offers of a better work environment and higher wages. (PTI)

Citing lack of jobs back home, migrants eye a return to cities

Despite increased funding, govt’s rural jobs programme can at best provide temporary reprieve for now

NEW DELHI : On the morning of 4 June, Sandip Singhroha embarked on an unusual journey. He, along with farmers from the agriculturally prosperous Karnal region of Haryana, boarded a bus to Bihar, accompanying a group of daily wagers who used to work at the local mandi or wholesale crop market.

Mandi operations had slowed down considerably because of the virus outbreak and the restrictions imposed by the state to contain its spread. The workers who would sort, grade, and load the produce were left with little work and wanted to go back to their villages in Bihar.

Singhroha and the group of farmers he was travelling with were worried about an acute labour shortage during the upcoming kharif planting season. Over the past week, Singhroha also received several distress calls from Sitamarhi in Bihar. “The labourers there had no work and wanted to come to Haryana to transplant paddy. They said they will die of hunger otherwise," he said.

So the enterprising group of farmers from Haryana made a plan. They hired a bus for 1,05,000 to drop the mandi workers to their village in Samastipur, Bihar, and travel back with the skilled paddy transplanters to Haryana.

The 2,600 km round trip on a bus hired by three Haryana farmers is indicative of the ongoing flux in India’s labour market. Over the past two months, millions made an arduous journey from cities where they worked on daily wages to their villages in states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Jharkhand.

India has eased its lockdown rules and allowed sectors such as real estate to resume work. However, employers are now facing an acute shortage of labour. Companies are tempting migrant workers to return with offers of better work environment and higher wages, Mint reported on Monday. Real estate developers also plan to write to the central government requesting it to provide special trains to bring workers back.

The problem migrants who have gone to their home states are facing is an acute shortage of work. The government has increased funding for MGNREGS to 1 trillion, the highest ever since its inception in 2006. However, this can at best be a temporary reprieve for the landless.

“With more rural families demanding work under the jobs scheme this year, a household is unlikely to get more than 50 days of work on average, despite the higher funding," said Rajendran Narayanan, assistant professor at the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. At an average wage of 200 per day, this means a cash inflow of 10,000 per family, just enough to survive for a few months.

However, despite the hardship landless families are facing, they are unlikely to return to cities soon. Take for instance the case of 19-year-old Deepak who borrowed money and rode pillion on a bike to reach his village in Banda district in Uttar Pradesh, about 1,200 km from Surat, where he had worked at a textile factory. It has been a month Deepak reached his village but he did not find work for even a day.

“I have no option but to go back to Surat or Ahmedabad, but not before the lockdown is lifted. There is too much uncertainty now," he said.

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