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NEW DELHI : The surge in the number of returning migrants amid the covid-19 crisis has forced state governments to create local job opportunities and a social safety net around India’s low-skilled floating workforce.

With over 6.5 million daily-wage workers returning to their villages amid an uncertain future, the politically significant population may well expect some respite as states launch several initiatives to map their numbers, bridge the skill gap and help them earn a livelihood.

So far, Uttar Pradesh has received 2.5 million migrants, Bihar recorded 2 million returnees, while Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand expect 1.3 million and 1 million workers, respectively.

The massive exercise to collect data on India’s unorganized workforce and skill mapping could be a first-of-its-kind initiative, which may finally help state governments to get a handle on how they can address employment issues in a fragmented labour market.

“This is an important data set for us because when the migration of these labourers started two months ago, we had no estimate to know how many people had left the state and how many could possibly return. The idea of creating a nodal agency to collect information on migrant labourers will not only help us create jobs but also help the state government know what kind of work these migrants were involved in, in different states. This data will help us estimate the number of migrant labourers," said a cabinet minister in the Bihar government.

Bihar has completed skill mapping of at least 500,000 migrant labourers who had returned to the state. If the state government manages to alleviate the sufferings of its daily-wage workers in time, it could make significant gains in the assembly elections five months hence.

Likewise, Uttar Pradesh, too, has set up a migration commission and a panel to address the welfare of migrant labourers. According to the initial data, the worst affected were real estate workers, carpenters, painters, electricians and artisans, besides handicraftspeople. “So far, we have some good result of our work. The Uttar Pradesh government had asked all industries to give us information on their requirements of skilled and unskilled workers. We have received requests for 500,000 skilled workers from different industries in the state. The process is continuing and the state government is confident that it would be able to provide jobs to migrant workers," said a cabinet minister, requesting anonymity. Uttar Pradesh has promised to provide jobs to 2 million migrants.

On Wednesday, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan held a review meeting of the ‘Shram Siddhi Abhiyan’, which is aimed at providing employment to unskilled labourers. The state will form a skill register of migrant labourers at the panchayat level, wherein information on their skills and related inputs will be recorded.

Non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled states, too, are looking to tap similar skill mapping initiatives. “We have a control room where we are taking down details of all migrant labourers who are getting in touch with us. The idea is to note down what their skill set is, so that they can be employed gainfully in the future. We are getting a diverse range of occupational inputs even from labourers from other states, such as Jharkhand, for handicrafts, industrial and construction, as well as agricultural labourers who work in sugarcane fields of Uttar Pradesh," a senior official from the labour department of Jharkhand said, also requesting anonymity.

gyan.v@livemint.com

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