The Modi government is presently focusing on the falling economy, but the Finance Minister’s announcement of the details of Rs.20 lakh crore relief packages is a welcome step indeed. However, whether these measures will boost the economy without the migrant labourers returning is a big question now.
The reverse migration forced by the 50-day lockdown has created a great impact all across India. Thousands of migrant workers are still in the process of returning to their homes. But, is it possible for them to forget the trauma of the past few weeks of lockdown misery, is an open question to all.
There are many heartbreaking stories of their long walks to their homes along with their family and children. The Hindustan Times reported SWAN’s study released on May 2, which said that around 72 percent of those returning home had almost run out of ration, usually provided by the local state government, and cash.
There is a risk that this exit of labour and their reluctance to return might create a labour shortage. In that case, the government knows that this will delay the start of the economy. Some experts predicted that incentives need to be offered to the migrant workers to return. The basic reason for their being reluctant of not returning is that they fear a lack of security after they were left high and dry by the governments and private employers. Finance Minister Sitharaman’s huge relief fund is aimed to benefit migrant labours, who must be weighing on the pros and cons of returning to work. The minister has announced several measures including food and shelter schemes, easy credits, etc. in Rs.3.5 lakh crore package which includes free food grains for 8 million migrant workers.
Many of these measures are significant like the “One nation, one ration card”, universal minimum wage, and concessional land, affordable rental housing for migrant labour. What is missing is the hard cash for their immediate daily needs. The nationwide lockdown has left real estate developers in a quandary. On one hand, the developers have been calling for e complete lifting of lockdown on real estate projects so that construction activity can get back on track. However, this is only possible with a complete labour availability. According to Anarock Property Consultants data migrant workers comprise at least 80 percent of the construction sector’s total workforce of 44 million.
For large employers facing demand, destruction is the problem of paying wages is severe. The textile industry that is India’s third-largest employer is in a quandary on how to keep paying salaries. The president of the Indian Cotton Federation was even more pessimistic, “About 95 percent of the industries will not be able 100% wages for lockdown period. We do not have the liquidity, having lost the peak season, but as per the Industrial Disputes Act, we are bound to pay 50% of the salary to the workers for the layoff period caused due to some calamity. If we get some financial support from banks or the government, some mills might be able to pay the remaining salaries later.”
The need of the hour is to frame comprehensive unemployment benefits and also amend the labour laws should be made in favour of the labour. While normally the migrant worker waits out a crisis before going back, this time it may take longer than even one year.