Urbanisation and the growth of cities in India have been accompanied by pressure on basic infrastructure and services like housing, sanitation and health. The 2011 Census of India reveals that the urban population of the country stood at 31.16 per cent. It indicates that there are about 4.5 lakh houseless families, a total population of 17.73 lakh living without any roof over their heads. Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are the two states with an acute housing crisis.
Though shelter is a basic human need, migrant workers live in extremely precarious conditions. Most of the migrants are employed in construction, small industries, hotels, casual work, domestic work and other informal activities. In the case of migrants working in small units, hotels and homes, their workplace is their place of lodging too. Often such places are unhygienic and poorly ventilated. Most construction workers stay in makeshift arrangements. Casual workers sleep under bridges and on pavements, often living as a group in unhygienic surroundings.
How has the pandemic affected the housing of migrant workers? Firstly, when the pandemic struck and the national lockdown was announced, most workers rushed back home on foot, leaving behind their temporary abodes. Those who were left behind lost their shelter because workplaces were shut.
Migrants living in rented apartments could not maintain social distancing. In suburban regions with a sizeable number of migrants, the local population wanted them to vacate houses as soon as the pandemic began, citing the lack of hygienic conditions in these dwellings. Even though most state governments appealed to house owners to waive two months’ rent, they began mounting pressure soon after. Up to 88 per cent of migrants reported that they could not pay the rent for the next month, according to a survey conducted by Azim Premji University of 5,000 self-employed, casual, and regular wage workers across 12 states of India in April and May 2020.
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