The Miseries and Problems of Migrant Labourers

By Neha Choudhary

There has been an extensive and exhausting journey after the deadly coronavirus broke out in every part of the world. The world has been tremendously affected in every other possible way. This bizarre pandemic affected everybody in their daily lives. There was a whole new destructive journey that commenced after the virus started blowing off everyone’s well-settled life.

This has been like a crazy roller coaster ride for not just the poor who were already battling for their lives but also for rich people who were living their admirable lives. People have suffered a lot amid covid as this has afflicted physically, emotionally, mentally and predominantly the whole economic system had been shattered.

The death rates increased rapidly with huge percentages every day and there was no source of income for more than 70% of the population.

The lockdown that was imposed on the people forced them to be inside their houses to curb the deadly virus. However, the series of lockdowns made people jobless, homeless and they barely had any food to have.

People were short on cash as they were unemployed where on the other hand they had long hospitals bills to pay off for their loved ones who were suffering from the coronavirus.

Although, the government has been supportive in many ways; they came out with every scheme possible and even helped the poor for their daily affected lives.

Thus, this article talks about miseries of migrant laborers.


The covid situation has been a very challenging ride for everyone in this world. Where on one hand everyone learned to deal with their fears of losing their loved ones, there on the other hand the challenge of facing Corona has made everybody strong and has given them the strength to not just fight physically but also mentally and with all economic matters as well.

A huge population lost their jobs, they were being suspended or terminated due to the pandemic as it was inaccessible for the employer to pay off their salaries and thus was justified on their part.

In a country like India where people from diverse religions and customs live together despite being disparate, India has been a home for those too who earn from their daily work to those who are high-class rich people who won’t be distressed even if they don’t work for days.

Migrant workers who migrate to the bigger states in search of work to live their lives off. This covid situation has excessively affected the people who were daily wage workers and had to travel long distances to find work from their hometowns to cities.

However, this pandemic had made their lives problematic and burdensome as well, as they can’t work due to lockdown.

The government of India imposed lock down several times now to administer the covid situation and to prevent chaos which would, unfortunately, heighten the death rate. However, this lockdown helped to control the death due to the virus but has affected the general public in many ways.

The lockdown period was very challenging for those workers who did not even have money to fill their stomachs, and which forced them to leave the states and be with their families in villages where they at least have food and will to live.

The complete lockdown with no vehicles on the road made them travel long distances which even amounted to days by foot to get back to their hometowns as they were completely helpless and jobless.

The government’s attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus was however successful to some extent as the death rate was decreased but the economy was shaken and weakened.

According to the reports millions of daily wage laborers and workers were left without jobs and left with no choice but to migrate back to their homes for their survival.

Migrant workers were amounted to about 20% of India’s labor force. These workers who migrated to the cities were not just men but also included women laborers.

According to the study of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it has been revealed by the migrant women that the Covid-19 pandemic had affected their lives miserably as they were facing a decline in their incomes and severe crises when it comes to poverty, illness, hunger or some were even homeless at the same time.

Supreme Court Judgment in In Re: Problems and Miseries of Migrant Laborers[1]

The covid pandemic had impaired everyone in different ways and thus the government had tried every achievable way so that people do not suffer for a long time.

In a recent judgment of the honorable Supreme Court where the miseries of the migrant workers were discussed and how much they faced amid lockdown and the way they traveled back to their hometowns and covered long distances on foot out of helplessness due to lack of transportation.

It was even said by the Solicitor General (SG) of India while filing an affidavit on behalf of the Union of India in the Supreme Court that “there is no person walking on the roads in an attempt to reach his/her home towns/villages”.

The three-judge bench said, “it was not possible for the court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking” as the petitioner seemed to mitigate the agony of the migrant workers who walked a thousand kilometers to reach their homes because they had no job, no place to live, no food and no money and to add on they had no transportation to even return their homes for survival.

The SG however quoted that, States are providing interstate transport. But if people get angry and start on foot instead of waiting for the transport to be provided nothing can be done. We can only request that people should not walk. Using force to stop them would be counterproductive”. 

In addition to that, even Chief Minister ordered Special Forces to stop migrant workers from traveling on their own back to their hometowns.

The bench even raised a question displaying the lack of sympathy for the victims of the tragedy and said that “How can anybody stop this when they sleep on railway tracks?” when the issue regarding the 16 migrants being run over by the train while sleeping on the railway tracks was raised.

However, the apex court benches had shown some humaneness and compassion while dealing with the miseries of the migrant workers. After the apex court mentioned their incompetence to interference in the matters of executive and legislative, the hope came from the high courts.

For example, Orissa high court took up the migrant’s issue which was again left up to the Supreme Court, the Gujarat high court, madras, and Andhra Pradesh high court, etc. also discussed their issues regarding migrants.

However, in June, the Supreme Court gave its final verdict on the fresh plea pending in a suo motu case of May 2020, where the miseries faced by the migrant workers amid lockdown were raised.

Thus, the Court in its final judgment directed the Centre and the states to come up and implement schemes for migrant workers to ease their miseries and provide them with social security.

The SC mentioned that “They have also been complaining of not being provided food and water by the administration at places where they were stranded or in the way i.e. highways from which they proceeded on-foot, cycles, or other modes of transport. In the present situation of lockdown in the entire country, this section of the society needs succor and help by the concerned governments, especially steps that need to be taken by the government of India, state governments/Union Territories in this difficult situation to extend a helping hand to these migrant laborers.”

The SC thus ordered the authorities to come up with the schemes to provide benefits to the victims of the situation and then provided them with a ration system and came up with the scheme i.e. ‘one nation one ration card’, community kitchens, and register unorganized laborers to help them access welfare schemes.

“One Nation, One Ration” scheme for migrant workers must be implemented by all states by July 31” which added that “The States/Union Territories have to make extra efforts to reach migrant laborers so that no migrant laborer is denied two meals a day,” as quoted by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court also said that states should also “run community kitchens to feed the migrants till the end of the pandemic” 

In the migrant worker’s case, it was argued that the welfare schemes provided by the government are not lacking but not reaching the migrants and thus registration provision came into effect where workers had to register under the Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008, and other laws to avail the benefits and to ensure their rights, welfare, and food security as without registration none of the welfare schemes and benefits can be accessed.

The court also noted that an unorganized worker would be entitled to direct bank transfer if there was a State policy and mentioned that “Both, in the first and the second wave of the pandemic, migrant workers had been exposed to financial and other forms of hardships due to their limited access and claim to the welfare resources offered by the States/Union Territories. Migrant laborers are particularly vulnerable to the economic regression.”

What are the Guidelines issued by the Court?

The Supreme Court on June 29 came up with a pronouncement in which it ordered some guidelines in the migrant laborer’s case.

The guidelines were issued to provide relief to workers and methodically tackle the problem arising due to the coronavirus and lockdown. The guidelines were:

  • The judgment mentioned that “Tall claims by all the States and Union that they have implemented various welfare schemes for the migrant workers and unorganized workers remain only on paper without giving any benefit to unorganized workers.”  Thus the court directed the government to implement a “Portal in consultation with National Informatics Centre (NIC) for registration of the unorganized laborers/migrant workers.” This registration portal would provide benefits of the scheme to be available for the migrant workers as well.
  • The States and the Union Territories were directed to register all unorganized laborers/migrant workers under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1996 and Unorganized workers Social Security Act, 2008.
  • The third guideline issued by the Supreme Court via judgment to the Central Government was “to allocate and distribute food grains as per the demand of additional food-grains from the States.” The SC emphasized the right to food as the fundamental right under the right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution and issued the guideline to provide dry ration to the migrate workers via an appropriate scheme and such scheme shall be operative till the covid situation continues.
  • The Central Government was ordered to implement the “One Nation One Ration Card” Scheme through which the migrant workers would be provided with ration at the ration shops, and they would be needed their ration cards, aadhar card, and few other necessities. However, this scheme provides the portability of ration cards throughout the country.
  • It was also mentioned under the guidelines that the total number of persons under the National Food Security Act, 2013 is to be re determined.
  • The Central Government was directed “to run community kitchens at prominent places where large numbers of migrant laborers are found for feeding those migrant laborers who do not have sufficient means to procure two meals a day.”
  • The Court also observed that “in the event any person is entitled to direct bank transfer as per the existing scheme in any State, he can avail the said benefit by the mechanism as provided in the policy decision.”
  • The court also directed the government to arrange transportation for migrant workers who wish to return to their homes to ensure their safety.

What could be the Drawbacks?

Every system whether it is governmental or not have certain shortcomings and drawbacks. The schemes that the government authorities came up with, for the benefit of the affected sections of the society due to the corona pandemic and the shaken economy, however, have certain drawbacks as well.

These can be seen as:

  • The foremost drawback to be noticed is that the migrant workers are the ones who keep on migrating in search of a job and once they are unemployed it is difficult to keep their track and as far as the scheme is concerned it is difficult to prepare a database for the migrant workers and cover them under the scheme.
  • The guidelines issued by the Supreme Court to implement schemes and provisions that would benefit the migrant workers are seemed to be declaratory rather than compulsion and if a provision is not mandatory, there are possible chances that the benefits are not being availed to the affected sections.
  • The guideline that mentioned the ‘One nation One Ration Card’ scheme, the registration of migrant workers to provide dry ration to them had to be done by the states and it is however difficult to develop a standardized system within the deadline given by the court.
  • The reports also show the administrative problems in implementing the order of developing community kitchens for migrant workers, as the states have been given this responsibility and thus, they do not have enough infrastructures to provide large scale for community kitchens.
  • The States were directed to formulate their schemes that would benefit the poor sections and provide food to migrants but as per the records, there are no normative data with the states to identify eligible migrants to provide dry ration to them.


The pandemic has been proved to be a deadly ride for everyone in the world. Every person has faced hardships amid corona whether it is physical pain, mental and emotional pain, or economic instability in the country. There have been complications that everyone faced and thus learned to face them in the future again.

The corona situation affected every section of the society whether they are rich community or the people who work and earn on the daily basis.

The corona situation has been like a die-die situation for the daily wage workers for whom it would be difficult to survive in these hard times where if they leave their houses, there is fear of death due to the fatal virus and if they choose to remain at their homes, they would die due to starvation as they are unemployed and do not have enough money.

The Government of India has thus implemented the measures to safeguard the interests of the migrant daily wage workers who chose to leave the cities and return their homes where they at least have their families and chance to survive.

The Supreme Court has pronounced their judgment for the sake of the migrant laborers and issued certain guidelines to formulate schemes for the benefit of the affected sections of the society.


  1. In Re: Problems and miseries of migrant laborer SUO MOTU WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) No(s).6/2020

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