Written by MWSN volunteer Ankan Barman; edited by Ayush Rathi (CIS)

Published by Centre for Internet & Society


With the onset of the national lockdown on 24th March 2020 in response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the fate of millions of migrant workers was left uncertain. In addition, lack of enumeration and registration of migrant workers became a major obstacle for all State Governments and the Central Government to channelize relief and welfare measures.


A majority of workers were dependent on relief provided by NGOs, Civil Society Organizations and individuals or credit via kinship networks. With mounting domestic and international pressures, various relief and welfare schemes were rolled out but they were too little, too late and more often than not characterised by poor implementation.


The aim of this report is to qualitatively assess health conditions of migrant workers and access to welfare during the first COVID-19 lockdown. The primary focus is on the host states of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Haryana. 20 in-depth interviews were conducted remotely with migrant workers working in various sectors. Their access to welfare schemes of the Central Government as well as of their host states was ascertained. Emphasis was also laid on their access to healthcare facilities in relation to COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 ailments.


The findings of the report showcase a dismal state of affairs. No one in our sample group received any kind of dry ration or cooked food in a sustained manner and, in the rare occasions when they did, it was woefully inadequate. Of the three states considered, we found that relief distribution was the best in Tamil Nadu followed by Maharashtra and then Haryana. Even the Direct Cash Transfer Scheme of the Central Government under ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ did not reach the migrant workers. Moreover, the migrant workers were apprehensive to report any COVID-19 related symptom due to the draconian treatment that followed therein and the crumbling healthcare sector made it impossible to avail facilities in non-COVID-19 related issues. Lastly, a case has been made for the creation of bottom-level infrastructures to further dialogue between various stakeholders, including associations of migrant workers, for the implementation of schemes and policies which can consolidate migrant workers as a relevant political subject. As migrant workers reel from the impact of the second wave, pushing for on-ground infrastructure and supporting community-based organisations becomes even more urgent.