The Forgotten Citizens: Hardships Faced by Migrant Workers in India

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The Forgotten Citizens: Hardships Faced by Migrant Workers in India Blog Image

Why in News?

  • On the morning of 12 November in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, the under-construction Silkyara tunnel collapsed after a landslide and 41 workers continue to remain trapped for the 14th day.
  • In a country that boasts of its achievements through statues, stadiums, and hagiographies dedicated to celebrities, the backbone of the nation often remains unnoticed.
  • Migrant workers, the human infrastructure responsible for building tunnels, highways, etc., exist on the fringes of national consciousness, their struggles overshadowed by the grandeur of the structures they help create.

Strands of Internal Migration in India

  • There are a variety of strands of internal migration in India, including long distance and short distance, rural to urban, rural to rural, intra and interstate, intra and inter-district and circular and seasonal.
  • According to data, 35-40 per cent of the Indian population takes part in internal migration.
  • As far as interstate migration is concerned, workers move from the poor states such as Bihar, UP, and Jharkhand to the richer and more industrialised states.
  • The low level of formal sector employment, around 22 per cent according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (2021-2022) means that roaming labour is a characteristic feature of Indian society.

Major Reasons Behind the Migration

  • Unpredictable Nature of Agriculture Production Systems
    • One of the significant factors contributing to the challenges faced by migrant workers is the unpredictable nature of agriculture production systems.
    • The vagaries in agricultural output often serve as a catalyst for circular migration, where individuals move seasonally in search of livelihood opportunities.
    • The very seasons that are celebrated in cultural practices become uncertain for these mobile workers.
  • Better Economic Opportunities and Livelihood
    • The complexity of intra-national migration in India is underscored by the sheer scale of participants.
    • Regardless of the specific type of migration, be it rural to urban, intra or inter-district, or circular and seasonal, the numbers are staggering.
    • Hundreds of millions of livelihood-seekers traverse multiple boundaries, navigating a landscape of hope and distress in their pursuit of economic opportunities.

Plight of Migrant Workers

  • Perceived as Outsiders: According to data sources, the people that move across local and regional boundaries, seeking livelihoods suffer the humiliation of being perpetual outsiders in their host societies.
  • Face the Tragedy of Anonymity
    • Migrant workers are frequently depicted on television screens as figures in tragic events, highlighting the disconnect between their contributions and the recognition they receive.
    • Despite being the force behind the nation's infrastructure, their role is seldom acknowledged in the discourse of national greatness.
  • Often Left Unprotected Due to Policy Void
    • While the migrant workforce contributes significantly to the visible signs of national pride, the policies governing their rights are severely lacking.
    • The Interstate Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, is the lone legislation attempting to address the needs of this substantial population.
    • However, its provisions for housing, healthcare, minimum wages, and prevention of discriminatory practices often remain unrealised.
    • The migrant worker is treated like a job machine without considering their humanity.
    • Government systems often do not care about the unique challenges and changes that migrant workers go through.
  • Lack of Legal Protection Coupled with Urban Hostility
    • Migrant workers not only deal with not having legal protections but also struggle in unfriendly city surroundings.
    • Cities depend on migrant labour for building things like roads and buildings, but these cities do not have enough support for basic human needs of these migrant workers.
    • There is no healthcare, financial help, decent places to stay, safety measures, or childcare facilities. This leaves migrant workers on their own to manage everything.
  • Education Denied: A Generational Disadvantage
    • Within the urban purgatory, the plight of children of migrant workers is particularly distressing.
    • Infants are left in the care of older children, who themselves have no access to meaningful educational activities.
    • This creates a cycle of disadvantage, where the lack of educational opportunities hinders their ability to break free from the hardships faced by their parents.
  • The Harsh Reality of Injuries: End of a Working Life
    • For migrant workers, a broken limb often signals the end of a working life. Injuries sustained in the workplace rarely come with adequate support or access to medical facilities.
    • The injured worker is compelled to return to their homeplaces, seeking whatever measure of healthcare is available, as urban settings offer little in terms of quick and necessary access to medical facilities.
  • Seasonal Migration: Adding Misery to Misfortune
    • The necessity of seasonal migration from villages to urban environments further compounds the challenges faced by migrant workers.
    • The conditions of urban housing are often abysmal, making the seasons of the city an additional source of misery.

Way Forward

  • Thoughtful Urban Planning
    • The grim realities of life beyond work for migrant workers demand urgent attention and comprehensive solutions.
    • Thoughtful urban planning should extend beyond workplaces to encompass the entire spectrum of migrant workers' lives, offering not just employment but also dignity, education, and healthcare.
  • Policies Tailored to Migrant Workers
    • The neglect of educational opportunities for children, the lack of support for injured workers, and the inhospitable conditions of urban housing require targeted policies.
    • The Silkyara tunnel incident underscores the necessity for policies that address the specific challenges faced by migrant workers.
    • Rather than merely celebrating their diversity, there should be a concerted effort to understand and cater to their unique needs.
    • This requires a departure from the one-size-fits-all approach and a move towards nuanced policies that consider the complexities of the migrant labour force.


  • The Silkyara tunnel tragedy should make policymakers think deeply about the bigger problems migrant workers deal with and both policymakers and society should go beyond just symbolic acts and attention-grabbing stories in the media.
  • To truly care for the well-being of mobile workers, the society needs to carefully look at their lives and put in place policies that make their challenges easier.
  • Only after doing this, a nation can genuinely aim for greatness by helping those who often quietly bear the difficulties of progress.

Q1) What is the legal framework for migrant welfare?

The Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979 looks into the welfare of the labourers. The Act mandates that the establishment which proposes to employ migrant workers be required to be registered with destination states. Contractors will also have to obtain a licence from the concerned authority of the home states as well as the host states. However, in practice, this Act has not been fully implemented.

Q2) What actions have been taken on the state level to ease the plight of migrant workers?

In 2012, an MoU was signed between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to track labourers migrating from 11 districts of Odisha to work in brick kilns in the-united Andhra Pradesh. It was signed with the help of the International Labour Organisation. Kerala has set up facilitation centres for migrant workers whom the state refers to as “guest workers.” These facilitation centres maintain data regarding migrant workers arriving in Kerala as well as help migrant workers navigate any problems they might face. However, there is no data sharing between Kerala and the migrant workers’ home states.

Source: The Indian Express