Context: Reverse migration can be witnessed in India, as millions of migrant workers go back to their homes as the economy has come to standstill as a result of efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19.
Migration and reverse migration:
- Migration from rural to urban areas is a key in any country’s development. In India’s case, the surplus labour in agriculture migrates for jobs in the more productive sectors of the economy.
- However, most migrant jobs in urban areas are informal and are unable to provide social security.
- A shock such as covid-19 can put migrant workers in a vulnerable situation, in which reverse migration might seem to be the most logical coping mechanism available to them.
- The fear of losing their sources of livelihood and shelter in urban areas during a lockdown forced migrant labourers to journey home.
Are there jobs for them in the rural economy?
- Rural economy incapable to provide jobs: Rural India’s overburdened and agriculture-dependent economy with an underemployed working population is incapable of taking care of millions of workers going home.
- Also, the lack of a diversified economic structure makes it tough to create alternative sources of employment.
Impact on economy:
- As India reopens the economy post the lockdown, labour shortage in urban centres has implications and can delay economic recovery, which can affect social stability.
- The construction industry, which is the nation’s largest job creator, is already facing severe labour shortage.
- The productivity of the workforce involved in agriculture is lower than the urban workforce.
- Millions of workers going back to the rural economy could bring national productivity levels down and prolong economic recovery post covid-19.
- States that experience high rates of out-migration to urban areas are also the ones that have high rates of unemployment.
- It might be exceedingly difficult for them to absorb returning migrants.
- On the other hand, the rich states of western and south India who host migrant workers are in a hurry to send them home to avoid unrest.
- It is likely that the reverse migration is temporary and will return to normal after the threat of covid-19 has subsided.
- However, the rural economy cannot match wage expectations of inter-state migrants.
- As India continues to develop, job opportunities will be created across sectors, gradually leading to more migration from rural to urban areas.
- A ray of hope in MGNREGS and MSME: Programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the decision to boost micro, small, and medium enterprises can help bring the rural economy back on track.