The Modi government says it has no data on migrant jobs lost to Covid-19

Who migrants, what jobs?
Who migrants, what jobs?
Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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The Indian government has denied having any data that can clearly say how many migrant workers lost their jobs to the pandemic.

Three members of parliament asked India’s labour and employment ministry today (Sept. 14) “whether the government has done any assessment of the job loss among migrant workers due to the Covid-19 crisis, and if so, the details thereof.” To this, Santosh Gangwar, minister of state for the labour and employment, responded that the government maintains “no such data.”

This response (pdf) on the first day of the much-delayed monsoon session of parliament comes in the backdrop of widespread job loss, especially among India’s internal migrants. According to a World Bank report in April, India’s coronavirus lockdown impacted nearly 40 million migrant jobs in India. This was particularly exacerbated when India went into an over two-month harsh lockdown on March 25, one of the strictest in the world.

India’s unemployment numbers had reached a 45-year high in India in 2017-18, according to a Business Standard newspaper report from January 2019. A year later, the pandemic has only delivered a crushing blow to employment statistics. For instance, the government’s job portal for small and medium enterprises shows a 1,200% jump in job seeker applications since March 2019. In contrast, the jobs listed on the platform have only seen a 13% growth, according to Financial Express newspaper’s Sept. 7 report.

Many migrant workers, in the absence of buses, trains, and other public transport, began walking hundreds of miles back home. While the Indian government started a special train service for such migrants on May 1—a total of 4,611 trains according to the government’s data—several migrants succumbed to exhaustion and dehydration before that.

A hard count is difficult to estimate, but various reports have pegged the number at around a few hundred. The Indian government, on the other hand, responded to the same unstarred question that no death data has been maintained pertaining to migrant workers walking home because of the pandemic.