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Please click here and here to access the key findings of report entitled To Leave or Not to Leave? Lockdown, Migrant Workers, and Their Journeys Home (released on 5th June, 2020), which has been prepared by Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN).


Please click here to access the key findings of the report entitled 'Unlocking the Urban: Reimagining Migrant Lives in Cities Post-COVID 19' (released on 1st May, 2020). Please click here to access the full report by Aajeevika Bureau.

The report by Aajeevika Bureau, using findings from the pre-COVID period, examines the lives of migrant workers in Ahmedabad and Surat, across multiple work sectors and diverse castes, genders, language groups and source regions. Through the report, the authors of the report ask, “How do migrant workers access public provisioning – housing, water, sanitation, food, and healthcare – in urban areas?”

The findings of the report suggest that the severe humanitarian crisis for over 100 million migrant workers is not unanticipated or caused solely by the COVID outbreak. It is rooted in India's urban and labour policies, and economic growth model, which excludes and alienates this vast group of workers while using them to boost industrial and infrastructural growth. For decades, migrant workers have relied on informal networks to access basic provisioning, which has severe implications for the cost, quality, and reliability of access to a basic, dignified survival.

The report by Aajeevika Bureau entitled Unlocking the Urban: Reimagining Migrant Lives in Cities Post-COVID 19 (relased on May 1st, 2020) looks at the socio-economic and living conditions of circular migrants in cities of Ahmedabad and Surat (Gujarat) and attempts to find how they access basic facilities and services there, besides checking how migrant workers negotiate for these facilities and how urban planning and governance respond to the requirements of circular migrants in urban spaces.

The Ahmedabad and Surat surveys were mainly conducted in the months of August, September and October during 2018 and in the months of February, August, September and October during 2019. The key findings from this report with respect to Ahmedabad and Surat surveys are summarised below.

Key findings related to Ahmedabad survey:

• Of the 1.3 million circular migrant workers in Ahmedabad, 285 workers were surveyed across 32 locations and most of those surveyed were employed in five major sectors. Almost 80 respondents (28.07 percent) were working in the construction sector, 72 respondents (25.26 percent) in manufacturing, 47 respondents (16.49 percent) in hotel and dhaba, 44 respondents (15.44 percent) were head loaders and 42 respondents (14.73 percent) worked in the domestic help segment.

• Roughly 174 respondents (61.05 percent) were males while 111 (38.94 percent) respondents were females. About 44.6 percent (127 respondents) of total respondents were Scheduled Tribes (STs), 23.5 percent (67 respondents) were Scheduled Castes (SCs), 12.3 percent (35 respondents) were from Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and 19.6 percent (56 respondents) were from general castes. Almost 176 respondents (61.75 percent) were family-based migrant workers and the rest 109 respondents (38.25 percent) were single workers. The migrant workers hailed mostly from the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

• Housing in the city of Ahmedabad for migrant workers was classified into rented rooms, worksite housing and settlement in open spaces. Of the migrants surveyed, 151 respondents (nearly 53 percent) lived in rented rooms, 79 respondents (27.7 percent) lived at worksite, 37 respondents (almost 13 percent) lived in open spaces and 18 (6.3 percent) respondents lived in some other forms of housing, mostly semi-permanent residences built by workers living for a long time period in Ahmedabad. For factory workers and domestic workers, rented house was the most preferred form of housing as is evident from the fact that 63.9 percent of the factory workers (46 out of 72 respondents) and 83.3 percent of the domestic workers (35 out of 42 respondents) stayed in rented accommodations. Almost 41.3 percent (33 out of 80 respondents) of construction workers stayed in open spaces. Roughly equal number of hotel workers lived in rented houses (24 out of 47 i.e. 51.1 percent) and worksite (23 out of 47 i.e. 48.9 percent).

• Although 62.1 percent of male respondents (108 out of 174) lived in rented rooms, only 38.7 percent of the female respondents (43 out of 111) stayed in rented rooms. Further, as compared to 21.8 percent of the male respondents (38 out of 174) staying at the worksite, 36.9 percent female respondents (41 out of 111) stayed at worksite. Of the 37 respondents living in open spaces, a whopping 32 migrants (86.5 percent) were STs, followed by three SC migrants (8.1 percent). On the contrary, out of 56 general category respondents, 35 respondents lived in rented rooms (62.5 percent).

• For rented rooms, the monthly average for 10×10 sq. feet pucca room was found to be Rs. 3,022/-, which was too costly especially for unskilled ST (adivasi) workers. Instead rent per person arrangement was preferred by single workers on a 4-5 person sharing basis. Rental markets are unregulated without any written contracts. Facilities depended on tenant’s goodwill with landlord. Worksite housing is especially visible for construction workers, head loaders and hotel/ dhaba workers.

• In rented rooms, landlord determined the type of sanitation facilities for workers. Almost 15-20 individuals shared a toilet and they themselves were responsible for cleaning it. Workers living in worksites or open spaces either used pay and use or mobile toilets or resorted to open defecation. Some construction sites had separate toilets for women, but in case of gender neutral toilets, women had to wake up before 5 am in the morning to use them. For women in construction sector, 32 percent of the respondents had to use shared toilets while 68 percent resorted to open defecation. Nearly all women workers engaged in factories resorted to open defecation while all women workers working as domestic helps enjoyed access to individual toilets.

• For workers living in rented rooms, water facility was provided by landlords. For those living in worksites, either the employer provided it or workers fetched it from public stand posts. Only 9 percent of the respondents had access to water from taps installed by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). Almost 46 percent of workers relied on water from private buildings through goodwill with security guards/ local residents. Some of the construction site workers had access to 24 hours water since they used the water available for construction activities in household works as well. In case of migrants staying with their families, primary responsibility of water collection vested with the women of the household. Water usage is determined by the water available and not water actually needed. As against WHO’s mandated 100 litres water per person per day, people in the rented houses got only 85 litres per person per day. The situation was worst in open space settlements on government/ private land where people received only 39 litre per person per day. Nearly 70 percent of the respondents never treated the water and used it directly for consumption. Often there was a visible difference in between facilities being provided to local Gujarati speaking workers and migrant workers.

• None of the migrant workers had access to subsidised foodgrains through the Public Distribution System (PDS). Expenditure on food was the highest for those living in open spaces (about 53 percent of their income). Expenditure on food as a percentage of their income was the lowest for hotel/ dhaba workers (17 percent), followed by domestic workers (42 percent), factory workers (43 percent), head loaders (44 percent), and construction workers (48 percent). Often factory workers living in rented houses were forced to purchase ration from shops set up by their landlords. Adivasi families living in factories and working in hazardous conditions were found to spend just 29 percent of their income on food, because of the fact that continuous chewing of tobacco suppressed their hunger. For fuel, adivasi families staying in open areas collected different materials ranging from pieces of plastic to wood shavings. Buying firewood costs Rs. 100 per day on average, which is unaffordable for many.

• In the sphere of health care, only 14.7 percent respondents preferred public hospitals, 74.4 percent preferred private clinics, 14.4 percent preferred private hospitals, 5 percent preferred going back to their villages for treatment and 0.7 percent preferred urban health centres. Urban health centres remain open during 9am-6pm, which is the working hour for the migrants and hence visiting them might mean losing daily wage for a migrant. Public hospitals often insist on producing different kinds of domicile documents which are often not available with the workers. Hence they are unwilling to visit these hospitals. Even among the 40 respondents who said that they prefer public hospitals, 39 of them were living in Ahmedabad for more than 3 years. Almost 48 percent of them belonged to the general category and only one-fifth were adivasi workers.  

• Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) prepares static plans for 10 years, failing to take into consideration the changing nature of the cities. According to AUDA officials, housing for workers was never really a part of urbanisation plans. Open spaces almost always bear the brunt of evictions, whenever AMC took up expansion or land reclamation drives. Though AMC tried multiple times to send migrant workers from open spaces to night shelters built by the government, often those attempts were unsuccessful, owing to unfriendliness of such spaces and insufficient capacities.

Key findings related to Surat survey:

• Surat, which is often boasted as world’s fastest growing city during the period 2019-35, has seen a boom in diamond polishing, textile, ship building and petrochemical industries post 1980s. This led to a massive influx of migrant workers. Presently, nearly 70 percent of wage workforce is constituted by migrants, which as a proportion of migrants to locals, is highest in the country. The survey in Surat was conducted among 150 migrant workers working in power loom industry across 12 different locations of the city. Out of total, 106 (70.7 percent) were single male migrant workers and 44 migrants (29.3 percent) lived with their families in the city. Almost 72 percent of the workers were from Odisha (mostly from Ganjam district), 16 percent were from Bihar, 10 percent were from Uttar Pradesh, and 1 percent each were from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

• Nearly 56 percent respondents were OBCs, 26 percent belonged to general category, 10 percent belonged to ST category and 6 percent belonged to SC category.

• The housing for the workers was divided into three typologies – mess rooms where 25 respondents (16.7 percent) stayed, shared/ bachelor rooms where 81 respondents (54 percent) lived and rented family housing where 44 respondents (29.3 percent) resided. Thus, all the single male migrant workers stayed in some sort of shared facilities. In case of rented rooms, room rents are fixed in the range of Rs.2500-Rs.4000 and a common toilet facility is provided for a group of rooms. The number of persons sharing such a room varied in the range of 2 to 10. Mess rooms include long hallways having areas 500-1000 square feet, where around 100 workers stayed across two shifts. There are 2 toilets for a hall. Mess rooms come with a package of 2 meals per day. Migrants paid in the range of Rs.400-Rs.600 for room rent and Rs.1,800-Rs.2,200 for food. Most rooms were poorly ventilated, usually old power loom spaces converted as a mess and run by a mess manager. For families availing rented houses, rent was same in the range of Rs.1,800-Rs.3,800 for rooms of size between 80 sq. feet to 200 sq. feet. Finding an accommodation is highly dependent on social contacts in the city. Around 23 workers (15.3 percent of 150 respondents) said that they faced evictions at some point or other, and among them 20 had faced evictions from mess, thus, highlighting the highly insecure nature of rental arrangements for migrants in the city of Surat.

• All migrants had access to toilet facilities. Almost 83 percent of the respondents had access to shared toilets located inside or attached to their living spaces. Nearly one-third used shared bathrooms, 46 percent had access to kaccha bathrooms and one-fifth have access to private bathrooms. Roughly, 93 percent of the respondents said that they had a closed drainage system, but often it was clogged owing to no maintenance. Garbage collection by Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) varied across locations, and often garbage is seen scattered around the roads.

• Sources of water for the migrant workers include bore wells, pipe water and government tankers. Almost four-fifth (79 percent) of the respondents used SMC provided water for drinking. Further 76 percent of the respondents did not purify the water. Electricity was available to all workers and it rarely failed. Electricity costs were either included in the rent (for two-third of the respondents) or had to be separately paid to the landlords. Quality of facilities like water and electricity depended on the relationship of the tenant with the landlord. In case of fuel, all respondents had access to LPG cylinders and mess owners often resorted to buying cylinders from the black market for cooking. Families with 4-5 members shared a cylinder for a month.

• Almost 92 percent of the respondents accessed private health care facilities like private hospitals, private clinics, quacks etc. Nearly 18 workers (12 percent of total respondents) reported having any accident in the previous year. Often, workers preferred going back to their native villages for treatment in case of any serious issue. Almost one-fourth (24 percent) of the respondents described immunisation as the only public health care facility availed by them. Requirement of domicile documents for availing subsidized health care in government facilities like Surat Municipal Institute of Medical Education and Research (SMIMER) prevented migrant workers from going there. ASHA workers did not visit areas inhabited by migrants frequently, especially if there are mostly single male migrants residing in the area. Further, only 31 percent of the respondents were aware about government schemes such as Ayushman Bharat.

• About 71 children of the migrant workers were recorded as a part of the survey. Amongst them 40 children were of school going age but 30 percent of them did not attend any kind of school. They instead were assisting their mothers in completing thread cutting work. Government schools were lacking across the areas where the survey took place. On top of that, dearth of documents and government schools mostly being Gujarati-medium prevented migrants from admitting their children there. Though a few Odiya medium schools were there, they had classes only upto 8th standard, thus, forcing children of migrants to enter the workforce after that. Roughly 15 percent children had attended anganwadis at some point. Approximately 14 percent of the children were not immunised at all.

• Almost 36 percent of the respondents (55 respondents) earned in the income bracket of Rs.15,000-Rs.17000 per month. Single migrant workers remitted 40-60 percent of their incomes to their families back home. This remittance is done mostly informally by taking the help of local shopkeepers, who charge Rs.10 to Rs.20 for every Rs.1,000 transaction through net banking. Only 21 percent of the workers had Surat-based voter card and 31 percent had Surat-based Aadhaar card. Only 21 percent of the workers had access to a bank account. Often women in the family-based migrants took up the work of thread cutting for their husband’s employer, but earned a meagre and undervalued sum of Rs.1,500 to Rs.3,000 per month, despite working for 6 hours per day on average.

• Around 98 percent of the workers never had any interaction with any government official in the area and only 8 respondents (5.3 percent) had been to a police station at some point or other. Even then, the police considered the workers as ‘mind dead people’ always under the influence of substance, ready to fight with each other over small issues.

Status of migrants and response of the State

The sections mentioned above looked at the living conditions of migrants workers in Ahmedabad and Surat. The three research objectives for the study undertaken by Aajeevika Bureau are: 1) What is the state of access to basic facilities and services by cicular migrants in Ahmedabad and Surat?; 2) If there is an absence of access to these basic facilities, how do the circular migrants negotiate in order to access basic facilities and services?; and 3) How do urban planning, governance, policies and schemes respond to circular migrants and what implications does these policies have on their lives?

• From the present report we come to know about the growth model these cities have pursued. The neo-liberal growth model which works on the sole principle of accumulation by dispossession is the reason why the circular migrants do not have access to the basic facilities. The neo-liberal growth path has kept the State outside the domain of welfare and has enabled employers to ignore their responsibilities towards the workers.

• The other reasons which prevent the migrants from accessing the basic facilities provided by the State include lack of information about the welfare measures provided by the State, neglect of circular migrants in many policies and fear of harassment when interfacing with the State. The employers who act according to the neo-liberal growth model and exploit workers to extract more surplus do not provide any basic facilities for the employees. This is a historic injustice done to the labour rights which were obtained after years of constant struggle. The neo-liberal growth model works through granting specific incentives to capital and weakening labour regulations. While semi-permanent migrants and settled urban poor are able to make demands through various mechanisms, it is circular migrants who are not able to make their claims for citizenship rights or labour rights.

• The study shows that in the absence of basic facilities, the migrants form a network of informal connections, often having urban poor as the main service providers, to negotiate for these facilities. This informal economy is location-specific and is rooted in unregulated relationships of simultaneous patronage and exploitation between workers and local actors. The informal economy along with the political economy in which it is embedded has two consequences. Firstly, the strong demand in the informal economy gives no space for negotiation and thus leads to arbitrary access to these facilities. Secondly, this also has high economic, physical and mental costs.

• This nature of informal economy often does not have any space for the migrant workers’ say and thus the space for negotiation is very small. An example for this is the fact that migrants are not able to have a written agreement for rent or electricity despite renting rooms from the same landlord over the years. The nature of informal economy is different and is often accompanied by local politics and power. This leads to varied experiences for the migrants and the costs of access and survival in the city is heavily determined by specific identities such as caste and gender.

• The experiences of migrants in the informal economy are different. The existing ethnic identities mediated by the social networks determine the experience of the migrant. The experience of SC and ST communities with that of the OBC communities in the city of Ahmedabad serves as a perfect example to highlight this point. The relatively stronger social networks and upward social mobility help the OBCs to have a consistent access to the basic facilities and services. The experiences of women migrants are also different. Women have to bear the costs associated with electricity charges, rent and safety of raw materials, besides unpaid domestic labour within the household, sometimes also extending to care work for their neighborhood.

• Migrants are not considered as citizens but as consumers. This is due to the dual paradigm of capitalist growth and neo-liberal urbanism. Migrants are not able to demand any access due to the neo-liberal model of urban growth and also because of the negligence of their demands in the policies and schemes of the government. The migrants are not able to make demands to the State and employer through legal recourse and mobilizations. Everyday access to the basic facilities is largely transactional and costs are measured and paid in the various ways described in their narratives.

• The phenomena of intergenerational transfer of poverty is prevalent among circular migrants. Since the migrants are treated as consumers rather than citizens they often do not have much to invest for their children. Children often accompany their parents to the worksite or work in helping their mothers in home-based jobs. Often children start working as early as 14-15 years of age since their parents are not able to work beyond the age of 30-40 years owing to poor conditions of work and lack of proper access to healthcare facilities. Neither the State nor the employer provide childcare or primary education facilities for circular migrants.

• The report looks at the response of the State’s policies towards migrants and highlights the problems associated with these policies. The problems attached with the State has a major role in shaping the lives of migrants. These include: politics around enumeration constrains provisioning and eligibility, sedentary bias in urban policy design and implementation, pricing out by income criteria, static planning versus dynamic urban growth and labour flows, limited autonomy and budgetary powers for urban local bodies, dichotomy between urban governance and labour governance, limited recognition of their presence in cities and unique needs and lack of opportunity to assert their political agency.

• Many policies use the Census data for its implementation, Due to definitional issues over last place of residence, migrants are often left out of the Census data collection. Census happen over large time gaps and thus is unable to capture the dynamic flow of migrants that has been characteristic of the informal economy. This means that since migrants are not placed in the Census data itself, they are often deprived of the government schemes.

• Another factor that plays a role in the State policies is the sedentary bias of these policies. Many policies are available to an individual only if he/she is able to prove their domicile status. Many a time, the migrants are secluded from these policies as they cannot prove their domicile status. When permanence of residence become the primary determinant of access, migrants are the ones who are excluded from these policies. In some domains like health care, access to primary healthcare is determined on the basis of citizenship while access to welfare schemes is based on the domicile status. This often leads to a differential levels of access for the migrants.

• The income ceiling attached to many schemes make it very difficult for the migrants to access basic facilities. One striking example for this is the Affordable Housing Scheme of PMAY (Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Scheme Guidelines, 2016). The beneficiary has to bear 50 percent of the costs to secure ownership of the housing units, which is almost Rs.3,00,000/- for even the cheapest housing units, which cost around Rs.6,00,000. This cost is very high for the migrants and thus they are denied access to a facility as basic as housing.

• Another important factor that has an effect on the lives of migrants is the static nature of urban planning. For instance, it was in 2002 that Ahmedabad Development Plan was formulated and the next plan will be formulated in the year 2021. There is a gap of almost 20 years and a lot of demographic and other changes has happened over these years. This also implies that there is no feedback mechanism within the planning process to take into account the inflow of migrants.

• Paucity of funds which is crucial for the decentralization process to have an impact is also a problem in the planning process. Majority of the development taking place in Ahmedabad and Surat is capital intensive and the local urban governments have very little stake in this compared to the State government. It is also noted that in some instances the local governments use this as an excuse to get away from the problems of marginalized sections. In effect, the urban governments are stripped of powers to have a meaningful impact due to the lack of institutional mechanisms.

• A major reason for the lack of welfare schemes for the migrants is due to the presence of a dichotomy between urban governance and labour governance. Although the exact nature of the dichotomy is not clear, the lack of clarity on the roles to be performed by different actors have huge implications on the lives of the migrants. For example, the Factory Act and the Shops and Establishments Act do not have any special provisions that take care of the housing needs of migrant workers. It is to be noted that many mid-sized hotels and restaurants are registered under the latter Act and many migrants are employed in that sector.

• The migrants are not able to assert themselves in the form of a political agency for their rights. The migrants are stripped of their voting rights and thus do not have any opportunity to assert their political agency. For example, no documentation is necessary to apply for the public stand post for water. However, these applications are often neglected by ward councilors/ an officials, since none of them are accountable to any migrant community. These things play a role and the lack of opportunity of migrants to assert their political agency makes it even worse.

• An important question is why migrants are not considered as citizens. This is because of their nature of to and fro movement between rural and urban areas. They do not have documents in the city and neither do they transfer the documents they have in the village to city as most of them consider village as their home. The formal state and the informal state do not treat circular migrants as legitimate actors who can make claims to the basic rights. There is also deep stigma towards migrants as they are viewed as outsiders and this gets reinforced through their different identities. It is in this context the idea of mobile citizenship captures our attention.

• Permanent residence should not be the basis for any policy aimed to improve migrants’ access to basic facilities. A citizenship consistent with their temporary and dynamic presence in the city is mobile citizenship. This idea will help in accommodating multi-locality and flexible mobility between rural and urban areas. The claims of migrants to basic facilities should be based on their role in the participation of building the city rather than the current citizenship paradigm which is based on residence. It is to be noted that the idea of mobile citizenship should not harm a migrant’s desire to settle in the city. Rather it should be such that it is accommodative of migrants who want to retain their deep roots to the village and those who want to have permanent or semi-permanent ties to the city.

[Balu N Varadaraj and Nabarun Sengupta, who are doing their MA in Development Studies (1st year) from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad, helped the Inclusive Media for Change team in preparing the summary of the report by Aajeevika Bureau. They did this work as part of their summer internship at the Inclusive Media for Change project in June-July 2020.]

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