In June, when the state government started lifting the restrictions, 26 lakh people returned till the 22nd of the month—less than half of the number that had left in the summer months.
Although migrants may not account for all the passenger movement, the numbers provide an indication of the migrant exodus and return. Officials said the return in June may be slow because sectors, like hospitality and retail, have not opened completely. The labour department received details on passenger exit and entry into the state from the Indian Railways.
Of the 54.4 lakh people who left the state in April and May, the largest share of 18 lakh or 33% were bound for Uttar Pradesh, followed by 6.4 lakh for Bihar, 5.2 lakh for Gujarat and 3.8 lakh for West Bengal.
Of the 26 lakh people who returned between June 1 and 22, 8.4 lakh were from UP, 3.3 lakh from Gujarat, 2 lakh from Bihar and 1.6 lakh from Rajasthan.
“Typically, a large number of people leave the state for their home states in the summer months because of school holidays and weddings. The return is not yet in the same number possibly because of curbs both in other states and in Maharashtra,” said additional labour commissioner Shirin Lokhande. “The migrant return may also have been affected because of concerns about a third wave. People may be worried that they would have to return home again if there are new restrictions,” he added.
Sectors like manufacturing and construction were functioning throughout the lockdownlike restrictions. In the construction sector, most migrant workers are back. “Roughly 30% of migrants left for their hometowns as they do each year in the summer. Around 90% of them are back because work in this sector has not stopped,” said Deepak Goradia, president of the Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry.
However, the retail and restaurant trade is waiting before calling migrant workers back. “We are functioning with a staff strength of 40%, mainly workers from the city…Our sector is not fully open and we cannot afford to pay for additional staff,” said Viren Shah from the Federation of Retail Traders’ Welfare Association.
Restaurant and bar owners in the state too are operating with just 20% staff strength and are reluctant to call their workers back from their hometowns, said Shivanand Shetty, president of the Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association.
“We are in touch with our migrant staff who are willing to return from their native place, but with all the operational restrictions on the industry, there is a huge cloud of uncertainty,” Shetty said. He further said that the hotel trade is facing a shortage of unskilled workers who have taken up work in the construction sector or other odd jobs.