This annotated bibliography provides insights into the relief work that Stranded Workers Action Network carried out especially during the second wave of the pandemic. SWAN acted in many capacities, to provide food, rations and other material assistance. It has also generated reports based on migrant worker surveys that assessed these needs across regions where migrant workers were stranded. It simultaneously petitioned state authorities to provide rations to non-PDS workers, demand responsive labour control rooms and expanded MNREGA cover for returning migrant workers. These articles consist of quotes and analysis of SWAN’s own work as well as the unfolding migrant worker crisis by volunteers especially during this year.
Compiled by Swan volunteer, Shirisha, illustration by Anagha Smrithi
1) 81% of migrant workers interviewed say they have not got work due to the local lockdowns, shows survey. Scroll.In. 05-05-2021.
SWAN says that only 18% of the workers received money from their employers after work stopped due to the pandemic.
A SWAN survey states that 81% of migrant workers’ work stopped because of the lockdown. On average, they didn’t have work for 19 days till now. We don’t get food if we don’t work, said one of the workers. Although many workers went back to their villages, others are not sure whether to go home or wait till the work resumes. There was a financial crisis and problems faced by migrant workers for food during the last pandemic. Report also adds that 96% of the workers have not received the ration, 70% did not receive the cooked food, and 89% have not received a salary from their employers during the lockdown.
2) Covid-19, Centre urged to provide wage compensation for the migrant worker. The wire. Rights. 05-05-2021.
As the virus spreads rapidly, the migrant workers’ economic activity is falling because of the restrictions.
SWAN has urged the union government to provide a wage compensation of Rs.7,000/- for the next three months to the migrant workers’ household to help them tide over the financial crisis through the ongoing pandemic. In a press statement, SWAN recommended a few measures to both the state and central government to help the migrant workers. To extend relief to migrant workers, document migrant worker experiences and suggest policy recommendations, SWAN launched a group of volunteers in 2020. SWAN requested the government to give ration through the PMGKAY (Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana). SWAN has also asked the government to strengthen MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Development Guarantee Scheme) which has especially helped return migrant workers financially during the first wave of Covid. SWAN urged the government to increase workdays to 200 to each household for financial stability. SWAN also asked the government to pass orders instructing tenants to not demand rent from migrant workers. The labour welfare boards should make sure that vaccination is prioritised for those who are returning to their homes.
3) Arakal, Ralph Alex. As Covid restrictions return, migrant workers stare at uncertainty again:study. The Indian Express. 05-05-2021
A study by SWAN researchers shows a repeat this year of the crises faced by migrant workers during the previous year’s nation-wide lockdown.
81% of the workers who were stranded during the second wave state that work has stopped due to the local lockdown/restrictions. SWAN found that the work had stopped for almost 19 days. 68% of workers said that they received their full or partial wages of the previous month. Seema Mundoli from the SWAN network states that though they received many calls across the country, most calls are from Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh. She said, 18% of the workers did not receive any money from the employers from the moment work stopped. A few workers went home to their villages, and few were unsure whether to go or to stay put. Rajendran Narayan, also a SWAN volunteer, urges the labour ministry to pay pending salaries to the needed ones.
SWAN, initially launched to suggest policy recommendations and documentations of migrant workers urged the Union government to provide RS. 7,000 as a compensation amount for the next three months to the priority households and migrant workers to unfold the crisis. Along with prioritisation of the vaccination.
4) Sofi, Umar. Migrant Workers among the worst hit as curb put in place to check Covid-19 cases. Indian News. 06-05-2021.
SWAN (Stranded Workers Action Network) volunteer group says that 81% of the workers, who are stranded or at their homes, stopped working in early April due to pandemic restrictions. Swan reports that volunteers are also not receiving money from their employers and unable to take care of their family because of the financial conditions.There is no support from the government and they have no ration cards to get subsidised food grains. There is a need to vaccinate migrant workers before arranging for their transport back home, says Swan volunteer, Anindita Adhikari.
5) Chhabra, Ronak. Migrant distress this year: no work, no money, no food…More Anxiety, News Click. 07-05-2021
Mithun Kumar from Bihar, a migrant worker in a tense voice says over a phone call, these days “I am scared, I am always scared.” As the Haryana government imposes lockdown measures, he is a little relieved. Unlike the first wave where there were lakhs of migrant workers who became stranded without work, money and food, workers had a little more time to prepare.
Kumar is the breadwinner of the family with a wife, mother, and two children. However, the lack of availability of the work has forced them to pool their savings which won’t last for “too many days.”
He has no hope of getting paid the pending salary or getting new work. There is also fear of national lockdown, as there are only local lockdown measures taking place till now.
Shyam of the Automobile Industry Contract Workers Union (AICWU), says the workers are not sure whether they will be paid full wages or not. SWAN says 68% of migrant workers received the full or partial wages for April. 18% of people have not received any money from employees from the movement work stopped. Zil, a SWAN volunteer who has been receiving distress cases since April 21, says there is more “anxiety” among the workers than last year. She adds everything happened in a short time last year, whereas this year’s crisis has gradually unfolded.
There are no measures taken for the workers, except to distribute 5kg of food grains. The One Nation, One Ration Card remains a “mirage.” SWAN continues to receive calls to facilitate travel, ration, income relief, and medical kits. With inflation, people are also leaving their towns and heading back to villages.
6) Acharya, Devparna. Covid-19 lockdown: 50% of stranded migrant labourers have less than Rs 100? 97% didn’t get cash back from the government, finds a report. First post. 12-05-2020
The SWAN report says that 97% migrant workers have not received any cash relief funds from the government. Rajendra Narayan, SWAN volunteer, says that this chaos is the result of the central government’s unilateral decision to announce a lockdown without consulting state governments. Since the lockdown was imposed, 17,000 migrant workers reached out to SWAN, for relief and help with COVID-19. Sakina, a SWAN volunteer, stated that one of the first calls was from Mangalore with 21 labourers needing help with money. It is then that SWAN decided to systematically provide help and document its relief work. To expedite things, SWAN volunteers have shared the bank details directly with the donors.
Several migrant workers reached out to the SWAN for help rather than government officials. They said that they are tired of reaching out to the government officials as there is no guarantee of support for them. Most of the migrant workers are from poor states like Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Assam and Odhisha. Their host states are richer like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Haryana. A very few states have announced cash relief funds to the migrant workers, and within this only a select few received cash relief funds from the government. There is a lack of information about migrant workers available in government documents, which is also leading to help not reaching those in need.
Ration card distribution and digital delivery are useful only if allied benefits reach those in dire need.
7) The Press Reporter. Delhi:Helpline for migrants sees spike in SOS calls. 15-05-2021.
SWAN has been working on a helpline for stranded migrants, and has reported a spike in distress calls from migrant workers in Delhi.
SWAN has a written a letter to the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal asking the Delhi government to extend rations to non-holders of PDS ration cards
8) Shagun, Kapil. Two-third of the migrant workers still don’t have access to the government ration: Survey. Down to Earth. 05-06-2020
According to the SWAN survey, 80% (821 distress calls) of migrant workers do not have access to government rations two months after the COVID-19 lockdown, indicating that the food distress is high in the first phase of the lockdown. 44% of migrant workers could travel on buses, whereas 39% managed to get shramik trains to reach their homes. 11% used lorries, trucks and other means of transport and 6% travelled barefoot to reach their homes. The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued various travel orders for migrant workers to reach their homes. Travel arrangements were so confusing that many decided to walk home . Other challenges are food and water, IRCTC tickets and the availability of Shramik trains.
After the second phase of the lockdown, 33% of migrant workers want to go back home. The government stated that there is no need for shramik trains as most migrant workers have reached home. Most of them left with little money, and no rations.
9) Mukharjee, Sanjeeb. Almost 92 percent of casual workers didn’t get wages during the lockdown: SWAN survey. Business standard. 16-06-2021.
The survey held on April 2020 which was conducted among 1,396 groups adding upto 8,023 people including 4,836 women and children, showed that 76 percent of the workers had less than Rs 200 left with them.
It says that it’s been more than a month that 56 percent of the migrant workers’ work has stopped.
SWAN said that “beyond the necessary focus on vaccination and health systems, a rapid macroeconomic recovery requires an urgent response in the form of a national relief and recovery package to (a) protect life, (b) partially compensate for lost livelihoods and income, and (c) boost demand in the economy for faster overall recovery.”
“For income, the proposed crisis cash transfer must leverage existing direct benefit transfer systems (NREGA, PM-KISAN, PMJDY, NSAP) with new decentralised systems of direct distribution from ration shops, post offices, panchayats and other local institutions,” SWAN said.
10) Paliath, Sreehari. No savings, scanty jobs: why the second wave has been harder for migrant workers. India Spend. 01-06-2021
Activists and researchers say that migrant workers are struggling to find work, wages and ration. The Public Distribution system must be universalised, free ration must be provided for at least six months.
Over 800,000 migrant workers left their hometowns from India’s capital in 2021. The ration has not been accessible to people. Since many states are facing mini-lockdowns, the workers are not able to find work and inflation has spiked. Despite the Supreme Court order stating that transport/relief has to be provided, workers are facing the availability of trains, and relief measures.
Paswan, a migrant worker from Bihar says that he received some money and ration last year. SWAN and Migrant Workers Solidarity Network (MWSN) have written to the central and state government to provide food supplies even if the individual does not hold the PDS cards and ration cards as per the SC orders. The court asked the state to file an affidavit “indicating the mechanism through which the dry rations to be distributed to migrant workers, who do not possess a ration card.”
There is also an urgent need to supply medical assistance alongside food to migrant workers.
11) Bhattacharya, Ditsa. Majority of migrant workers still stand with no money, says the SWAN report. News click. 08-06-2020
80 percent of migrant workers have faced difficulties in traveling back home despite the SC order.
According to SWAN’s third report, 67 percent of people are still staying at the workplace after the lockdown was declared. Only 33 percent of migrant workers managed to reach home. 55 percent of migrant workers wanted to go back home and 75 percent of them had to migrate for another employment opportunity.
The report titled “To leave or not to leave,” talks about the lives of stranded migrant workers and the issues faced by them during the first wave. SWAN carried out relief work through zonal helplines to arrange ration, money for basic amenities and travel. SWAN has spoken to around 34,000 migrant workers during the first wave and transferred 50 lakhs directly to the workers’ accounts by connecting individual donors with the workers.
The report states, “While migrants were struggling to meet food and cash needs, their woes were compounded by the chaos created by the central government vis-a-vis travel for the migrants. The spate of deaths of migrant workers in road accidents, exhaustion due to walking long distances, dehydration, hunger, and police brutality continue unabated.”
After all this, the Central Ministry of Human Affairs issued orders regarding inter-state movement. It granted permission to arrange travel for migrant workers through the Ministry of Railways. Though there were a lot of orders passed concerning migrant travel, there were an inadequate number of trains. The SC has ordered that migrant workers should not have to pay to travel in trains. 85 percent of migrant workers who reached home said they had to pay to reach their destinations. The report states that the SC order was too late. In the distress calls, 80 percent of the migrant workers said they did not have access to government rations.
12)The TNM staff. Utter callousness:’ Workers body condemns government response on migrant workers death. 16-09-2020
SWAN cited “studies and databases and criticised the government for its lack of data on migrant workers in India.”
SWAN noted, “It was more than one month after the total lockdown was imposed without any relief for migrant workers stranded in cities without cash and food, that the Ministry of Home Affairs issued its first set of orders related to migrant travel. By this time thousands had already begun walking or reached home on foot, in what will be remembered as one of the largest movements of people since partition.”
The network said, “in light of their own estimates, albeit conflicting, the GoI’s response stating that it does not have the data or does not have access to, it is an act of renunciation of its duties and an attempt to hide its negligence behind a purported absence of data.”
13) Tripathi, Naandika. Unsung heroes: The migrant workers of India. India Forbes. 11-01-2021.
Migrant workers have walked barefoot for thousands of miles to their homes after losing their jobs in the cities. Many of them are planning to work in metros even when the Covid-19 situation still looms large.
Shivashankar Pashwar, is one of thousands of migrant workers who didn’t find a seat in shramik trains and walked to his hometown, Darbhanga district of Bihar. The 37 year old construction worker at Mumbai stocked up on a few essential items and walked with 25 other migrant workers. He said there was a fear of “dying with hunger,” if he stayed in Mumbai more than the fear of contracting a virus. He had to leave the city after 10 years of working there.
A SWAN report published in April says that 79 percent of workers returning home were daily wage labourers at construction sites. Another 8 percent were domestic workers and drivers. Almost 72 percent of the workers were running out of cash and the ration provided by the local state government. Many have not received any money since March from the state government.
He says though they started their journeys in the night, from Maharashtra, after reaching the Gujarat border, the police didn’t allow them to pass. The group has figured out the forest path, Pashwar recalls. After reaching Nashik, the truck driver agreed to give them a lift and dropped them somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. As they walked endlessly, their legs became swollen and their feet were blistered. He was thankful that his group received relief in the form of food and medicine on the way.
According to the Save LIFE foundation between March 25 and May 31, there were more than 1,400 road accidents that killed 750 people of which there were 198 migrant workers. Migrant workers lost lives due to the constant walking, intense cycling and travelling on trucks in the heat. Pashwar reached his hometown after 15 days of the constant pain of physical and mental distress. Even then, he could not visit family members as there were villagers who greeted him and other workers with pebbles saying that they carry the virus. They stayed in quarantine for 14 days and went home. His employer didn’t pay him his pending salary for his work before the lockdown, even after frequent phone calls.
14) Newsclick report. Labour ministry’s helpline numbers for migrant workers, ‘A patchy afterthought.’ News click. 25-05-2021.
“SWAN has said that the volunteers called 80 officers from across the 20 zones and enquired about the assistance provided for the migrant workers with regard to non-payment of wages, provisions of rations, financial assistance among others.”
“SWAN also hinted on how the absence of any provisions for protection of workers this year affected the delivery of any relief to the needy ones.”
SWAN concluded, “Without adequate facilitation, acknowledgement, follow-up and creating a culture of rights, we don’t believe that the Government is doing enough in responding to this grim situation.” On Monday, the volunteers group said it had found that only 8% of the 10,092 migrant workers.
15) The Hindu Report. 92 percent of workers stopped receiving payment from employers, :Report. Bengaluru. 16-06-2021
This report provides an insight into SWAN’s latest report titled ‘Country for Workers’ and its findings based on conversations with over 8000 callers.
“This time around, the problem is compounded by a lack of savings, which they used up last year. Around 92 % of the country’s workforce who lack access to social safety nets are experiencing “a historic and unprecedented crisis”, said a report from the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN), which relaunched its helpline in April 2021.”
“As per their findings, 57 % of the callers had less than two days of rations left when they spoke with SWAN, while 76 % of the workers had less than Rs. 200 left with them. Around 34% of the workers had not been paid their pending wages for completed work, while 13% of them had been paid only partially.”
“According to the report — Over 1,200 workers’ groups or their families (7,050) people received money transfers from SWAN, with 6% of these groups requiring an additional cash transfer due to the continued lack of external aid. The total amount of money crowdsourced and transferred directly to workers’ accounts was ₹3.30 million.”