Coronavirus Lockdown and Indian Labour Migration

Coronavirus Lockdown and Indian Labour Migration
Coronavirus Lockdown and Indian Labour Migration

Demography of India & Socio-economic Imbalance

India has a population of 1.35 billion people across its 29 states and 7 union territories. The demography of the Indian population is very interesting. The northern & eastern part of the county is more populous compared to the western and southern part of India. The state of Uttar Pradesh in north India is the most populous in India with a total population of  231.5 million, which is almost 70% of the population of the USA. The per capital income of the state is just around $809.

The state of Maharashtra in the western part of India is the richest state and contributes US $450 billion (14.3%) in the total nominal GDP of India. The per capita income of the state is around $2,900.  Most of the IT hubs and industries of India are locate in the western and southern states of India. Both socially and economically, northern (except Delhi & Punjab) & eastern states are backward and less progressive compare to their western and southern counterpart.


As northern states lack infrastructure, required to attract the industries and capital investments, the unemployment rate is high, which is a primary reason of huge population from these states migrate to metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, etc and other second-tier cities of the south-western region for employment. As most of these workers are unskilled and less educated, they have to depend on agents who get them a job as labour in factories or construction sites, etc on a daily wage basis. Those, who are well educated and skilled, seek employment in multinational companies and settle for a better standard of living.

Biggest Lockdown in the History

On 25th March 2020, President of India Narendra Modi declared the biggest lockdown in the history of mankind in whole India. The terms of the lockdown were strict, according to which people were allowed to leave home only for medical emergencies and daily essentials. All means of transportation were suspended. District and state boundaries were sealed. All factories, companies, offices were shut down and all IT employees asked to work from home. In the first phase, the lockdown was declared for 21 days, however, in various other press conferences and policies, government officials gave hint that this lockdown was going to get extended for more than 21 days, which now lasted for more than 55 days.

Panic Among Labours

About 10 million migrant labourers were stranded across the country, according to states. Labours depend on daily wages and street vendors started panicking, as they were running out of their savings. Millions of these labours did not even have resources to feed their families and depend on government authorities and some NGO’s for food. However, these efforts by the government and NGOs were not enough, considering the huge number of such labours.

A Long Journey Towards Home

That is when, millions of these workers started their journey towards their hometown in northern India from metro cities, which is hundreds and in some cases more than a thousand miles away, on their own. With no means of transportation, these workers and their families are travelling these distances on their feet or some using bicycles. As many highways and local roads are seal and being guard by state police, labours are walking on railway lines as well and as a result, many labours and their families lost their lives in railway accidents. Total of 89 people died in rail or road accidents while walking to their homes.

Lack of Lockdown Planning

Modi government failed to plan the course of this lockdown and its implications on labours. They were ignored while making the policies in the situation of this pandemic. Even the economic packages declared by the government were not enough for any sort of relief of these labours. According to researchers Thejesh G.N., Kanika Sharma and Aman, till Saturday 16th May, 378 people had died since the lockdown was imposed due to reasons other than the disease.

Late Wisdom

After almost 50 days of lockdown, hundreds of death and numerous requests from state authorities, the Union government of India started special trains to transport the migrant workers to their hometowns in various parts of India. The step, which should have been taken at the start of this lockdown and widespread COVID-19 in India. Even getting on these trains is not an easy task and one has to go through the tedious process of the medical certificate, filling up online forms and then wait for their turn to get a seat in these special trains. No wonder, illiterate or with no knowledge of English, these migrant workers still choosing their feet or bicycles to reach their destinations.

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