Context: Niti Aayog has prepared a draft national policy on migrant workers. It is a prompt to reimagine labour-capital relations.

  • The Niti Aayog draft will be sent to the Labour Ministry, en route to Cabinet and Parliament.
  • At least 26 lakh migrant workers were stranded across the country, according to the Chief Labour Commissioner’s Office, and the government told Parliament that at least 10 lakh of them returned home during the COVID-19 crisis


  • The draft flags how a fragmented labour market obscures supply chains and relationships between business owners and workers. 
  • The existing gap in the unionization of migrant workers is also an important reason for the precarious nature of their employment.
  • “Political exclusion” leaves migrants “unable to make political demands for entitlements or seek reforms.”
  • Identifying institutional gaps: States have limited engagement with migrants. For example, in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, anti-trafficking units focused on minor women have suffered with inadequate staff and poor supervision of migration trends.
    • Programmes such as MNREGA and State Rural Livelihood Mission are meant to check out-migration by tribals but that hasn’t succeeded.
  • Tribals are not “actively included” in skill development schemes and were not able to access them because of “lack of awareness and tedious paperwork and processes.

Key points of the draft:

  • The draft has suggested that political inclusion could be key to bridging the gaps in their access to health services, basic entitlements, food security, education and so on. 
  • Mechanisms to “enable voting” so that political inclusion will “enhance accountability of political leadership towards welfare of migrant workers of their respective states.”
  • Ministry of Labour to set up a special unit on migration.
  • Inter-state migration management bodies to cover the nation’s key migration corridors: Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai; Bihar and Delhi; Western Odisha and Andhra Pradesh; Rajasthan and Gujarat, and Odisha and Gujarat.
    • It could help to create an institutional framework for timely and targeted response in crises. 
  • Each state should establish a migrant workers section in their Labour department. 
    • Source states should send nodal officers to destination states to work collectively with the labour officers.
    • The policy calls for the state’s Tribal department to have one inspector at the block level and Labour one at the district level.
  • Government policies should not hinder but seek to facilitate internal migration.
  • Migrants should be the target of Disaster Risk Reduction (DDR) programmers in urban centres.
  • Portability of welfare schemes: Access to health and other social protection programmes should be portable across state borders.
    • The government has taken steps to ensure portability of welfare schemes, especially access to the public distribution system, beyond state borders. 
    • More needs to be done on that front.
  • Skill mapping using Aadhaar to avail of social security schemes.
  • Psycho-social assistance through a national helpline.
  • A rights-based approach to welfare and social security would work only if the workers have agency, as the draft has indicated. 
  • Politicisation, unionisation and mobilisation as workers in the past has forced parties and governments to see welfare as an essential aspect of industrial development. 

The Niti Aayog draft is a prompt to reimagine labour-capital relations while integrating the migrant workers within the formal workforce. This is necessary to build a compassionate society and a competitive economy.