Today, India’s migrants are walking back home on foot since the lockdown was announced and no arrangements were made for them.
Migrant workers leave their villages and homes in hopes of bigger incomes and better living standards. They are often met with disappointments and struggles when they reach the urban spaces and yet more and more migration is observed every year. What remains hidden in these figures is the fact that many such rural dwellers are victims of environmental injustice and more often than not are driven out of their homes due to its consequences. This article will explore notions of crop failure and the push and pull factor that leads to migration in the first place. Furthermore, these factors are only worsened in the current situation, with the relief packages announced by the government being too little and too late. This makes it only a temporary solution to their ongoing distress.
India’s policy approach to agriculture has been increased production through subsidized inputs such as power, water, and fertilizer. However, subsidies neither improve income distribution or tackle the problem of mismanagement of resources. This has resulted in the use of capital such as tube wells in water scarce regions and to accommodate this, farmers borrowed money from informal sources at high interest rates. In addition to this, global warming and climate change have led to various seasonal side effects that negatively impact the produce. The National Crime Records Bureau records a total of 8007 farmer suicides according to its 2015 report while the others in suffering are forced to move. Termed as ‘forced migration’, there is not enough official data on such migration, but it is estimated to vary between 15 and 100 million.
Farmers were already facing huge losses due to the untimely rains in January and with the lockdown in effect, the loss has almost doubled. Restrictions in the movement between states cause a decline in the availability of farm labour which leads to major problems since this was the peak time for the harvest to reach the mandis (market). The closure of all food stalls and restaurants has led to a major dip in demand for food grains and fruits and vegetables. This was also added to by the constraints in the consumption of the working class families in this lockdown. Owing to this, many have opted to stop harvesting all together since they would have no means to cover the costs of harvesting. The rest have been reported to dump their produce unable to sell it, incurring debts.
There were certain steps and announcements undertaken by the Government, yet the impact of the same on the field has not been examined. There was an advance release of 2000 INR in the bank accounts of the farmers under the PM- KISAN scheme. Moreover, agricultural term and crop loans were granted a moratorium of three months (until May 31st) with 3 percent interest on crop loans up to INR 3000000.
The second form of migration is called ‘development-induced displacement’. As the name suggests, this form of migration is a result of what a capitalistic world would call the necessary development. Non urban spaces are usually seen as wastelands for such activities and more often than not the people living here are driven out to satisfy the demands of the capitalists. In this manner, dozens of villagers and tribal folks are displaced every year owing to activities such as the construction of dams, ports, and mining projects. Through this one comes to realize that the root cause behind migration lies in urbanization itself. People displaced under such circumstances would usually fulfill the spaces of the labor in urban spaces who have migrated outside the country in search of employment.
With the labor from outside the country moving back in and migrant laborers walking back home, the environmental injustice dawning upon them is not lessened. Stranded amidst the lockdown the distressed workers are hoping to reach their home as the country prepares to slowly open up and industries prepare to start functioning. Their journey has been traumatic and even the relief packages assigned have failed them. There have been constant reports of inhumane services and many deaths every passing day as they cover more and more kilometers. Even after they reach their homes and villages, they will be caught in a situation that they are least responsible for. Agriculture becomes an unviable option making them more vulnerable than they already are to displacement once again. With industries starting their operations, more and more development projects will be undertaken, which will become a priority of the government. Just how labor laws were eliminated in several states in order to attract investment, environmental clearance will be granted more easily than before as a measure to what the government will see as uplifting the economy.
The COVID – 19 pandemic being a health crisis will attract the major shares of the budget allocation in the near future, however this should not be done so at the cost of the primary sector and the informal labor that forms the backbone of the economy.
Vanshika Mittal is a student of Economics and Environmental Science and is currently enrolled in Ashoka University as an undergraduate student.