Migrants board a bus as they travel home during the ongoing Covid-19 nationwide lockdown in Jaipur, Rajasthan, on May 17, 2020. Photo: AFP/NurPhoto

India’s migrant laborers, who left the cities for their villages when the government announced a countrywide lockdown in March to contain the spread of Covid-19, now yearn to return to their workplaces after a steep decline in their income, according to a survey.

The survey was conducted by a team of retired statistics and economic service officers and academics and they collected data from six states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh – where most of the migrant workers hail from.

About 70% of the workers said they were keen to move back to cities for work as their incomes have dived by 85%, while in states like Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, the income drop was 94%, Mint newspaper reported.

The study found that 33% were driven by a lack of livelihood options in villages and job offers from past employers and nearly 41% hoped to get a job in the cities, despite the prevalence of coronavirus cases.

In a state-wise break-up, it was found that 89% of workers from Uttar Pradesh and 92% from Jharkhand were willing to return, while those in Odisha (59%) and West Bengal (35%) were much more hesitant.

Meanwhile, the automotive hub of Gurugram and Manesar near New Delhi has managed to reach pre-Covid levels of production as nearly 70% of the migrant workers there have returned to the factories and ancillary units, the Times of India reported.

This industrial belt is home to India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki and two-wheeler majors like Hero Motorcorp and Honda, and there are more than 1,000 small and medium ancillary units. Migrant workers account for nearly 50% of the workforce in these factories.

According to official data, more than 10.03 million people moved to their hometowns after the nationwide lockdown, but experts and civil society groups claim the actual number was much higher. Though initially it was meant for only 21 days, it was extended twice and lasted for two months.

Once the lockdown came into force on March 25, these workers were badly hit as their employers abandoned them, their landlords told them to vacate their dwellings and their labor contractors vanished.

Penniless and dependent on charitable organizations, the workers walked, cycled and hitchhiked on trucks to reach their homes hundreds of kilometers from their workplaces.

The worst-hit sectors due to this reverse migration were manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade, mining and hospitality. The country’s manufacturing sector employs about six million migrant workers and many units continue to face labor shortages after they resumed production following the easing of lockdown.

Meanwhile, India’s coronavirus caseload has crossed seven million and is now second only to the US (7.6 million), while the total number of fatalities has crossed 100,000. The daily number of new cases has fallen from a peak of almost 100,000 in mid-September to about 60,000-70,000.

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