Migration, entitlements and progress out of poverty

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The economic survey of 2016-17 recorded an increase in the net inter-state migration rates in India reporting estimates that were much higher to the claims presented in the previous government reports and studies. Evidences gathered from the recent surveys conducted by the Ministry of Finance revealed that between the period of 2011-16, the annual average labour migration was close to nine million making it evidently clear that India is moving and migrating fast. In context to such a situation, it is extremely important that there should be more visible data on the boundaries of labour rights and access to entitlement from the different state governments individually. A priority challenge in the field of migration research is the lack of primary data available to track the migrant families across the common mobility corridors. This further restricts the ability of appropriate authorities to progressively monitor the degrees of barriers to rights and entitlements of migrant families in separate target zones.

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Figure 1: Map showing main internal migration corridors in India mapped using in flow data (Economic Survey 2016-17- chapter 3)

The migrant workforce in India has majorly become a part of th shadow economy as recalled by several economists globally where the dependence is higher on the informal sector that falls outside the legal framework of rights and regulations. Such a dependence is also being observed globally where the informal shadow economy is growing extensively without contributing the required taxes or operating with the required standards of worker’s protection of rights.

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Figure 2: World Bank; world development indicators

The government sponsored social security schemes in India have been majorly lacking in their effectiveness with major biases in inclusiveness and implementation. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna (RSBY) implemented in the year 2008 by the Ministry of Labour and Employment is one of the few centrally sponsored health scheme specifically introduced to cover the health shocks and reduce out of pocket expenditure of migrant workers in the destination zones. The scheme entitles BPL families and households involved in the in-formal sector to make health claims in government as well as private hospitals up to a maximum coverage amount of Rs 30,000 including a minimum premium amount paid by the eligible beneficiaries. The academic literature and previous studies conducted to analyse the effectiveness of RSBY scheme on reducing the out of expenditure of BPL families brings forward important observations for the state governments to work on. Analysing household level debt and asset liabilities, surveys have accounted that there is barely any reduction in the out of pocket expenditure income in BPL families inclusive of RSBY cards. Most studies have commented that health is still the highest income burden in a rural BPL family where the households tend to take loans at 20-30 % higher rate of interests to pay of health expenses. This also reflects the tendencies of BPL households being frequent users of private health care facilities.

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Figure 3: Map showing the current RSBY coverage (source http://rsby.gov.in)

In the districts of Latehar in Jharkhand estimated as one of the high mobility migration corridors my interview with the local construction migrants and the tobacco workers gave significant information on the areas of portability biases and implementation challenges of such government sponsored social security schemes. It was recorded that in most cases of RSBY allotment there was no knowledge transfer that took place and thus most beneficiaries were not aware about the use and advantages of RSBY card. Additionally, some of the respondents claimed that the process of making a health claim was extremely difficult which included waiting in ques for longer time that lead to loss of productivity hours for a worker. Many such areas of rural Jharkhand like other high migration corridors tend to have more number of workers employed as construction workers or involved in the non-agricultural sector thus loss of labour hours includes loss of opportunities of paid work with further economic consequences. An interesting observation that came out of such a survey was that many households who paid previous claims using there RSBY cards said that the entire coverage amount was deducted in a single health claim by the hospitals and consecutive future claims where denied labelled as lack of coverage limit. The appropriate state authorities on the other hand said that most beneficiary households fail to pay the renewal premium amount for the RSBY scheme which makes the coverage amount deficit and non-useable. As seen in the literature the behavioural patterns of rural households towards subsidiaries and incentives justifies the statement recorded by the state machineries. Several BPL households tend to enrol for newer schemes than pay the premium of regulation fees for their existing schemes. For example, in the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojna (LPG subsidiaries for BPL families) the tendencies of families to procure new cylinders is seen more often than to re-fill the existing one. This also conceptualises the larger debate of electoral welfare schemes in India highlighting the present debate of farm waivers of debt ridden agricultural workers in several districts of India.

The studies of entitlements and access to rights in the common destination zones tell yet another story of violation of right to food. A growing concern for most of the labour rights and welfare organisations is the guild of landlordism effective in such areas. In industrial circuits of Delhi and the NCR regions where several migrant workers are involved as garment, metal and domestic workers are not able to access their basic right to subsidised grains at the government run fair price shops. Most landlords as a part of the tenancy agreement make the workers purchase grains out of their own privately run shops. Such shops sell basic grains at a much higher rate than the market price adding to the economic shocks of a migrant household. It is not a legal violation but socio-economic injustice that is being caused to the migrant families who tend to leave their households in an aspiration for a better quality of life in the destination areas. One of the reasons to this is also because of the flawed systems of the biometric identification and portability scopes of the present PDS cards. Though the government has been interfering more audibly now but the rates of successful identification of the beneficiaries to the scheme is still limited due to defunct portability aspects. Another point to be cautiously mentioned is the trends of female migration and their access to rights and entitlements. Primary research by me in the high mobility districts of West Bengal revealed that the participation rates of female workers to formal banking and other benefits are more skewed and rigid. It is seen that banks do not readily agree to open accounts for female workers as the remittance tendencies are observed to be low. Additionally, most female workers are treated as dependants and not giving access to credit for economic activities. The gendered perspectives of migration data are extremely relevant with very few studies accurately revealing the statistics on enrolment to government sponsored workers benefit schemes or enumerating on the degrees of barriers.

In the wake of the agrarian crisis for the last decade in India, the rates of agricultural productivity have been repeatedly low with severe shortage of credit outputs to the small and marginal farmers. In a situation like this today migration for work by such traditional agricultural families is the only option as a matching measure to progress out of poverty. The Wall Street Journal in a town hall discussion cited that on an average 48, 500 individuals in India migrate from rural to urban spheres in search of employability and better quality of life. Thus, with such rapid flow of people a major task for the state governments and public policy institutes is to identify whether the law of social protection and labour welfare is being exercised adequately to make the development agenda inclusive of the migrant population or prepare measures for boosting the agricultural scenario with credit upsurge to promote reverse migration.