Social Protection for All: Challenges in India in the aftermath of Covid-19

The implications of the lockdown during the pandemic were humongous, on large sections of workers (Jesline, 2021). The informal economy froze, and migrant workers were left without earnings, contractors left without paying wage arrears, there was a housing crisis and a food crisis. Migrant workers became restive and wanted to move to their home villages. But they were immobilized by administrative restrictions. The dam burst around mid-April 2020 when migrant workers began moving to their villages on foot, on cycles, on push carts, hired vehicles and private transport. The crisis exposed the gaping holes in the social protection system, especially for urban informal workers and migrants. It also brought out the magnitude of migration and the dependence of the economy and the middle classes on migrant workers, and brought this realisation into the realm of public imagination. Central Government responses were inadequate and responses by several states included a move towards deregulation of labour markets. When migrant workers returned to destinations, they confronted a labour market in which employers used their vulnerability to their advantage (ibid., Srivastava, 2021a).