Evidence indicates that as many as 140 million of India’s rural poor migrate seasonally to cities, industries, and farms in search of work. These are migrants who move back and forth undertaking a vast array of casual work in construction, manufacturing, services, and farm sector. They are part of India’s unorganized, informal workforce estimated over 350 million that remains excluded from services and rights as workers and citizens, in their rural homes and in their places of work in urban, industrial, and rural areas

Movement of workers happens from impoverished rural regions to the more affluent urban and industrial pockets. The historically established list of out-migration regions such as UP, Bihar and Jharkhand have expanded to include states such Rajasthan, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh. Even within the more prosperous states there is considerable intra-state movement of workers. While mega cities and industrial clusters have always been the major magnets of migrant workers, states such as Kerala have become significant employers of long-distance migrants

Poor wages, erratic employment, hazardous work conditions and lack of essential services define the experience of migrant workers. Access to public entitlements in India are linked to proof of residence which migrants are unlike to possess – this results their exclusion from subsidized food-grains, housing, health care and other benefits available to local citizens. Rural migrants are unable to cast votes in cities which alienates their voice. As a result, migrants survive on the margins, i.e. on construction sites, brick kilns or polluted manufacturing zones on the peripheries of cities. When they live within the city, it is often in informal settlements, that are deemed illegal by civic authorities, and hence placed outside planning and provisioning

Despite their vast numbers states and industry has largely been unable to provide migrant workers with effective legal or social protection. A serious constraint in framing effective policy is the lack of credible data on incidence of internal migration. Relentless dilutions in labour legislation continue to weaken the claims of workers – especially migrant workers – to rightful entitlements in their world of work

Economic growth in India today hinges on mobility of labour. The contribution of migrant workers to the economy is enormous but remains to be done in return for their security and well-being. There is an urgent need for solutions to transform migration into a more dignified and rewarding opportunity. Without this, making growth inclusive or the very least, sustainable, will remain a very distant dream