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  Table of Contents 
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-2

Seasonal migration - A developmental challenge?

CEO, Rajasthan Shram Sarathi Association (RSSA), Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

Date of Web Publication14-May-2015

Correspondence Address:
Rupal Kulkarni
Regency Park, Tower - B, Flat No. 19-C, Edenwood Complex, B. Nath Pai Marg, Thane - 400 610
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5278.156996

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How to cite this article:
Kulkarni R. Seasonal migration - A developmental challenge?. Indian J Occup Environ Med 2015;19:1-2

How to cite this URL:
Kulkarni R. Seasonal migration - A developmental challenge?. Indian J Occup Environ Med [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Mar 26];19:1-2. Available from:

When Narendra Banchur came to Maharashtra, he believed that he was escaping a life of poverty. Landless and penniless, he left his village in western Odisha and migrated with his wife and three children to work in a brick kiln in Thane district. What transpired was 4 years of cruel bondage, malnutrition, and physical abuse. With some luck, he was rescued by local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), but returned home penniless yet again. [1] With limited skills and virtually no assets, he was compelled to migrate yet again-risking his dignity, health, and future, yet again.

Narendra is one of the many seasonal migrant workers whose lives are defined by constant movement from villages to cities and back. Growing agricultural distress in several parts of rural India and lack of local employment opportunities are contributing to increasing labor mobility within the country. Informal estimates suggest that there are nearly 100 million circular migrants within India, [2] much above the official 15-million figure quoted by the National Sample Survey (NSS).

Indian labor markets today are characterized by increased casualization of the labor force and an increasing flexibility suited to the needs of industry. Of India's workforce, 92% is in the unorganized sector and most of this unorganized workforce consists of seasonal migrant workers. The informality of their work arrangements places them at considerable risk, with limited or no avenues for redressal of grievances. A network of middlemen and contractors ensures that the worker remains unaware of his/her principal employer. Withholding of wages, underpayment, zero compensation in the event of accidents or death, bondage-like conditions, and physical and sexual abuse at the workplace are commonplace. Furthermore, early entry into labor markets, a shortened worklife cycle, and limited skillsets result in the stagnation of workers within labor markets. The lack of interstate portability of entitlements such as the public distribution system (PDS), state health benefits, and voting rights has resulted in the growing exclusion of migrant workers from formal social, economic, financial, and political systems. Their invisibility in national level data and policy debates has further exacerbated their isolation from a host of social protection measures.

The string of labor reforms initiated in the last few months seems to have virtually no implications for this group of footloose workers. The focus on skill training characterized by the missionary zeal of "Make in India" fails to take into account the living and work conditions and the social costs borne by unorganized-sector workers and migrants in particular. The technocratic "Shramev Jayate" initiative, though lauded across the country, has oversimplified a much more complex situation and led to deeper despair.

Conventional discourses on migration advocate that migration be stemmed. However, with growing regional imbalances in development, internal migration in India is inevitable. One may, therefore, accept such labor mobility as a reality of India's growth story and focus on ensuring that migration is a positive opportunity for workers and their families. Various civil society organizations have taken a step in this direction by offering services and solutions that turn migration into a safe and dignified opportunity for workers. Some of these services are as follows: Securing laborers identity cards to avoid harassment in cities; skill training programs; legal mediation between workers and contractors for the swift settlement of disputes; labor helplines for workers in distress; collectivization of migrant workers to collectively advocate for better work conditions; health services both curative and preventive; financial services, including social security measures; mobile community kitchens for footloose workers in cities; crèches for the children of female workers; and empowerment of the families of migrant workers left behind in the villages.

Although civil society organizations have demonstrated proven models on the ground that address some of the challenges faced by migrant communities, larger change will be driven by greater involvement of the state, industry, and labor unions. Internal migration in India can borrow a leaf from internal migration management systems, which consist of more formal documentation and social protection systems. The labor-sending and -receiving states within India need to work together and find ways to communicate with each other to ensure that India's growth story does not happen at the huge social cost of workers' well-being and dignity.

  References Top

Center for Migration and Labor Solutions. Studies, Stories and a Canvas Seasonal Labor Migration and Migrant Workers from Odisha. Available from: [Last accessed on 2015 May 08].  Back to cited text no. 1
Migration and Human Development in India. In: Deshingkar P, Akter S, editors. United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports Research Paper. Available from:; 2009. [Last accessed on 2009 Apr 13].  Back to cited text no. 2

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