Migrant labour challenge in Corona crisis: How Indian cooperative federalism can save the day

Dual power sharing strategy coupled with effective management is the litmus test for India in the times of COVID-19.



Shreya Malik


The ongoing pandemic, COVID-19 has shaken superpowers across the continents and had overriding impacts on many sectors. In India, to control the same, eight – week lock down from 24th of March (DM Act, 2005) was imposed; soon after which many segments of population especially the unorganised sectors – labour workforce was severely hard hit. Gradually in two- three weeks these migrant labourers, were left without any income/ jobs, food supplies, coupled with unemployment, and had no option but to reiterate back to their native places - resulting in mass exodus or Reverse migrations. Fleeing the cities on foot in scorching heat of 40 degrees Celsius, travelling 100-450 kilometres bare foot, with no means of transport these labourers along with women and small infants made into national and international headlines, resulting into a national concern. Loss of livelihoods, hunger, and absence of ration cards, uncertain job prospects post-lockdown and arrested income flow has affected both migrants and their households who rely on these remittances.


The constitution of India, accords to the division of power denotes Public health, sanitation, hospitals, etc. subjects which are related to the states. Centre decided to bypass the existing law under the Disaster management Act. Considering the current socio- economic global crisis, the Centre intervened and took the same matters into its accord. Thus inviting lot of criticism and even proposed this cooperative model for working, this would be intertwined between the state and the Centre. This piece highlight the manner in which UP government made provisions to deal with the migration crisis in line with the constitutional scheme of division of powers between Centre and states, also to excavate the amalgamation of roles and responsibilities which the state government underplayed in solving the migration crisis and notably generating the highest no. of jobs for these migrants.

Timely intervention by the Centre was indeed a good move, as many states which were functioning at the frontline, were not successful in handling the migrant movement alone. Many state models like Kerala etc. which have shown quick responses and innovative methods to combat the ongoing crisis has been widely appreciated. While addressing the migrant crisis ’Rs 20 lakh crore package’ by the finance ministry was rolled out which advocated the smooth running of "Sharmik express’’ and state governments sponsored ‘buses’ (U.P), introduction of Public distribution system -free ration for stranded workers, Cash in hand and timely transfers (Direct benefit transfers), and the job creation in lieu of MNREGA’s were some of the key aspects. The government also promised on the free supply of food grains in lieu of 5Kg per person for two months, under the National Food security act of 2013. Schemes like One – Ration card, to make accessible and equal distribution of food and affordable rent accommodation are also part of the larger goals. These measures aim to address some Eight crore migrants keeping the implementation aspect to the state government, by supplying them with timely funds and according them the equal autonomy to function to effectively tackle the crisis.


Uttar Pradesh government, led by the present ruling CM Yogi Adiyanath, has tried to solve the migration crisis at a much larger scale. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar accounts for the major migrations accounting to some 2.9 Million (2001) and a steep rise to 20.9Million (2011) (Census 2001. 2011). The state was the first one to introduce Buses for migrant labourers in Anand Vihar, Delhi. Apart from making the safe and secure access of relief measures another major step taken by the state government if to introduce - the migration commission, aiding in ‘social security’ and ‘minimum job security’ by stressing on the skill and job experience based opportunities for the same. Apart from providing them employment it also ensures job creations within the state. Some minor initiatives like mass sanitisation, procurement of ration kit and monetary benefits for sustenance were also sent. Also digital initiatives like ‘ Pravasi Raahat Mitra App’ was also launched by the chief minister for the migrants which eases the communication from other states, monitoring of health and providing jobs related to their skill. Also amongst the most recent developments, the U.P government has also categorized its 37.61 lakh returned migrants into 93 categories, on the basis of their skill set where some 20.37 were found to be skilled and 15 lakh unskilled (HT, 16July, 2020). This skill wise employment data segregates the women and child to 3.8 lakh and 1.67 lakh , this entire exercise further has helped the U.P state government in 51 lakh job creation Under the same MNREGA scheme, and tops the race in terms of job creations for the migrants.

The world is still undergoing Pandemic situation, and India is no less in accounting for the number of positive cases in the global share. Originally viewed as the Chinese virus, Covid-19 had necessitated nation- wide lockdown which requires continuous awareness, testing, monitoring, and devising preventative measures which could not just be juxtaposed to the state’s share of governance. The country’s response therefore demanded effective coordination between the Centre and states and between the states themselves. The financial implications of this crisis and the migration exodus coupled with other natural disasters were something to be dealt with effective dual cooperative federal government and sharing of the power. Timely announcements of the financial packages and disbursing of the central funds, autonomy strengthen their capabilities in fighting the crisis. Thus this dual power sharing strategy coupled with effective management posses as the litmus test for India in the times of COVID-19. Thus this dual Cooperative federalism and sharing of the power adopted by the Centre and state had helped in controlling and over spreading of the disease, and combat the Indian economy from undergoing recession.


(Author is an Intern at Academics4Nation. She is also a Research Scholar, Dr BR Ambedkar University)

© 2020 by Academics4Nation