It has been one year since India came to a total standstill when PM Narendra Modi announced that the country was going into a lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The announcement caught millions off guard and the most affected were the migrant workers who made up the majority of the unorganized workforce of the country.
With their incomes cut abruptly, the millions of migrant workers who lived hand-to-mouth with their meager earnings had no choice but to go back to their homes.
This time last year chaos followed post lockdown
What followed the PM’s announcement was absolute chaos on interstates borders where the migrant workers rushed to get on the buses to head home.
But once that also stopped, the migrant workers, mostly from states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar had no option, than to walk home, which was hundreds or thousands of kilometers away.
The following days and weeks saw an unparalleled crisis – a journey of despair, grief, tragedy, and sometimes hope.
According to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, some 1.23 crore migrant workers had returned to their home states during the Covid–19 lockdown.
Out of this 50 per cent ( 61,34,943) were from three States — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
Add Rajasthan and Odisha’s workers to the list and these five States together recorded 67 per cent of migrant workers returning home.
When they left the cities that had abandoned them overnight following the lockdown the migrant workers had pledged that they will never return and will be happy to make a living at home doing whatever work is available there.
But this turned out to be a short-lived promise and as the reality of feeding their family hit them, many had no options but to go back to the cities as their workplaces including factories and construction sites resumed.
Grim readings for mass exodus
The data provided by the Ministry shows that Uttar Pradesh has biggest share (26 per cent) of migrant workers who returned to the State followed by Bihar (12 per cent),West Bengal and Rajasthan (11 per cent), Odisha (7 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (6 per cent).
Even after one year, many are struggling to find jobs and according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data, the unemployment rate was recorded at 6.9 per cent in February 2021 which is slightly better than 7.8 per cent in the same month last year and 8.8 per cent in March 2020, during which lockdown was imposed.
The data showed that the unemployment rate had peaked to 23.5 per cent in April and remained at 21.7 per cent in May. It started tapering off from June onward when it was recorded at 10.2 per cent in the month and further improved to 7.4 per cent in July.
However, the unemployment rate again rose slightly to 8.3 in August and improved to 6.7 per cent in September last year, as per CMIE data.
In October, unemployment again rose slightly to 7 per cent and then eased to 6.5 per cent in November last year as per the data.
The CMIE data showed that the unemployment rate had risen to 9.1 per cent in December 2020 and improved in January to 6.5 per cent.