Indian govt has ‘no data’ on deaths & job losses of migrants during lockdown


When the Indian government shut the country down at the end of March literally overnight without warning, millions were displaced from their jobs. The most affected were the migrant workers of the country, who are in a way the ones that keep the country moving forward.

They were forced to go thousands of miles back to their hometowns with little to no assistance from local state governments.

In a cruel turn of event, now the Narendra Modi-led government on Monday told Parliament that it has no data available on the number of migrant workers who lost their lives during the lockdown. Since no such data exists, there is ‘no question of giving compensation’ to victims’ next of kin, the Centre added.

On September 14, three members of parliament asked India’s labor and employment ministry, Santosh Kumar Gangwar, whether the government has done any assessment of the job loss among migrant workers due to the Covid-19 crisis, and if so, the details thereof. To this, the minister responded that the government maintains “no such data.” He also said that the government had not kept track of the job losses caused during the pandemic.

According to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 41 lakh jobs were lost in the country due to the COVID19 pandemic.

Another World Bank report issued in April this year said that the nationwide lockdown has impacted the livelihood of nearly 40 million internal migrants.

The Minister provided data of the number of migrant workers who returned to their home States during the lockdown imposed in March. A total of 1,04,66,152 workers had returned, with 32,49,638 returning to Uttar Pradesh and 15,00,612 to Bihar.

Replying to a question from BJP member Kaushal Kishore, the Minister said “forced retention during COVID-19 has not been reported” when asked for “details of reasons to withhold the migrant laborers in these States itself due to Corona and non-availability of prompt facility of their shelter and food”.

Mr. Kishore asked for the number and details of migrant workers, laborers and daily wagers “for whom the arrangement of job has been made”. To this, the Minister replied, “No such data is maintained.”

According to a Save Life Foundation report published in June, 198 migrant workers died in road accidents while returning to their village homes during the coronavirus lockdown.

More than 1,400 road accidents killed 750 people, including 198 migrant workers, between March 25 and May 31, according to the Save Life Foundation, a charity that works towards improving road safety and emergency care in India.

The migrants lost their lives while walking, cycling and traveling in trucks and vans in intense heat, as well as in massive crashes involving state-organized buses, it said, blaming speeding and driver fatigue.

Researchers Thejesh GN, Kanika Sharma and Aman state the number of non-virus deaths was as high as 971 till 4 July of which over 200 died due to starvation.

The replies were given on the first day of the Monsoon Session of Parliament that is being conducted with social distancing, mask-wearing and no Question Hour – the first since the lockdown was imposed. Activists have been raising their concern over a lack of a database of migrant workers, which is supposed to be maintained under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979.

“Under the Act, States should create a database of migrant workers. Since the government now has the data of a large number of workers who returned to their home States, they can continue the process of registration and then real-time tracking. They need to take this as an opportunity,” said Asif Shaikh, director of Jan Sahas.