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Why Modi govt dropped the idea of transferring cash to migrant workers during lockdown

Modi govt has been criticised for announcing interventions in economic package that are of a long-term nature. Opposition, activists say migrants who lost livelihood need cash in hand.

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New Delhi: The absence of a comprehensive database on migrant workers was one of the major reasons that pushed the Narendra Modi government to drop the idea of cash transfers to these workers as part of its Covid-19 economic package, ThePrint has learnt.

Amid criticism that the Rs 20 lakh crore package announced last week did not include cash transfers to migrant workers, senior government officials said the idea was actively debated at the highest level.

But more than financial constraints, it was the lack of a database with details of bank accounts and Aadhaar numbers of these workers that proved to be a hurdle, said the officials who didn’t wish to be named.

The government had a database of only 28 lakh migrants who were in relief camps opened by state governments, along with their Aadhaar numbers and bank account details. The rest, an estimated 7-8 crore migrants, were either residing within the industries where they work or travelling back to their homes, said the officials.

The government had no details about these workers to find a way of enabling cash transfers, said one of the officials.

As a result, the government opted to provide them free food and then work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, when they return to their native places.

In the relief package, it announced that every migrant worker, irrespective of whether he has a ration card, will get 5 kg of wheat or rice and 1 kg of chana per family, free of cost at a total estimated cost to the exchequer of Rs 3,500 crore.

While making the economic package announcements, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that the government is estimating that there are around 8 crore migrants, who will avail of the free food grain facility. She added that this data was collated based on figures received from state governments.

Sitharaman also increased the allocation under MGNREGA by Rs 40,000 crore to over Rs 1 lakh crore.

The government also decided to open up the railway network to facilitate the migrants to return to their towns and villages, said the officials.

Also read: The 3 big unknowns that have forced Nirmala Sitharaman to be prudent with economic package

Criticism for handling of crisis

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown beginning 25 March, crores of workers started their long journey back home to their towns and villages on foot and bicycles after being deprived of their jobs and livelihoods.

The government started special trains to ferry these workers only on 1 May. Thousands of workers are still on the road, nearly two months after the lockdown was enforced.

Opposition parties and rights activists have slammed the government for announcing interventions in its economic package that are of a long-term nature, be it the March 2021 deadline for making ‘One Nation One Ration’ card operational across India or converting government-funded housing in cities to rental complexes for migrant labourers and urban poor.

They have pointed out that the migrant workers who have lost their livelihood need immediate cash in hand.

No comprehensive recent migrant database

The Modi government plans to hasten the process of setting up a comprehensive database of migrant workers, but experts say this will be easier said than done.

“There are no credible numbers after the 2011 census. Even the 2011 census will not give you data about the distressed workers. All people who have moved from their state to another state will be classified as a migrant as per the Census definition, even if they hold good government or private sector jobs,” said P.C. Mohanan, former chairman of the National Statistical Commission.

“There is no way of getting a realistic number of casual labourers,” he said.

Before the Census, there is a National Sample Survey Office survey of 2007-08, but no recent survey or data is available, said Mohanan. He added that the Census 2021 exercise should be used to ask a few more questions about whether a worker is a migrant and a casual worker, or self employed.

However, he flagged that due to the National Population Register (NPR) exercise, migrants may be hesitant to disclose their true status. “Migration data will be the first victim of the NPR exercise,” he said.

Census 2011 had estimated that the total number of inter-state migrants was 5.42 crore, of which 1.25 crore had moved looking for employment. Inter-state migrants in urban India were estimated at 3.83 crore, of which 1.04 crore moved looking for employment.

Former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian had used railway passenger data in the 2017 Economic Survey to estimate an annual inter-state migration of around 90 lakh since 2011. But this approach was criticised by many economists and statisticians.

Also read: Is Modi govt trying to decongest Indian cities? Its economic package gives that impression


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  1. Fake article… government has transferred money and also provided food…can you post an article that central government is running biggest food subsidy program in the world right now

  2. Can we for a moment discuss the problems of Migratory Labours as a matter of NATIONAL INTEREST and not political TU TU MAIN MAIN.
    How many of our educated well to do citizens know that an ACT on MIGRATORY LABOURS was passed in PARLIAMENT and became a LAW in 1979.
    Can any learned man explain why this ACT could not be implemented during last FORTY LONG YEARS and why today no body is interested to discuss this ACT and possibly why it was not implemented. So who is responsible :
    Yes this FEUDAL STRUCTURE AND VIP CULTURE brought serious injustice and misfortune to a group of 20 CRORE YOUNG HONEST HARDWORKING CITIZENS of our country . And today most of us are not interested to even discuss this problem.
    How to change this unjust society? Had there been no LockDown we would not have cared to know the problem.

  3. But the centre can give money to states and ask them to tackle the issue. That is the only realistic way. Modi doesn’t want cms to take credit. So this issue will not be solved.

  4. The commentators as above are trying to play the game badminton.The one party has all the shuttlecocks in the hand while the other party has none.The level playing rules of the game require that both sides of the net are treated equal.As the track record of the previous governments show suspect intentions,the game obviously cannot be played.And so the unfair criticism of the Modi government by the writers of the seem simply Coffee Table Talks.Sure you cannot expect food to be prepared and delivered where there are no Credible data are available as to availability of the raw material and also data as to who are going to eat and what!! Simply critise the present Govt is not at all fair.Remember the intentions of the Chef ( here the FM) are not suspect.Kindly stop crying on the fallen milk.

  5. Those working for some Cos or Contractors could easily have been IDd.with a mere phone call.If necessary a [photo copy via Cellphones would have been possible.Others could also have been IDd in many ways available.There may be some MINOR lapse of some undeserving getting Cash,but when the so-called Lockdown is sudden and there is no money,Normal Rules do not apply..Where there is a Will there is a way as many Migrants prov ed by their travelling thousands of Kilometres on/by foot and whatnot!

  6. Data on Farmers including land holding, Migrant workers data with details of domicile, place and nature of work etc needs to collected for DBT and other purposes in furure. Govt should be careful and vigilant,at least now, that a group of officials ,who were involved in all nefarious activities during earlier regime, will try to block all efforts in this direction with lame escuses for their vested interest. Beware of them!

  7. Why can the authors admit that the tens of thousands of crores spent on the white elephant called Aadhaar were in vain.

  8. Data. Robust data is the key to any good governance. Atleast now we should realise that we need to invest in collecting proper data right from street hawkers to informal workers everyone in everyway we can classify. We only have to expand the Aadhar data base. A massive data collection drive at the earliest is needed.

  9. Modi is the first Prime minister to have low income people create bank accounts so that government can transfer payments electronically to needed people which this article forgets to mention because Congress does not like that.Congress is a party of looting the Treasury and not caring about Aam Admi.Had these migrant laborers provided thier bank account details then the BJP Government would have transfered money with a clean strok.But the main point of this article is to put blame on BJP?

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