Fortune favours the bold. In India, more than anyone else, it is poor migrants who display boldness while travelling long distances in search of work. Most do better than just sitting at home looking for work. The Human Development Report (HDR) 2009, released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), paints a vivid picture of the life of such internal migrants. It also makes a call for governments to do more for them.
In India, of course, UNDP is barking up the wrong tree. The Union and state governments, however, could not care less. Look at the facts: The HDR reports that from 1990 to 2005, some 42.3 million Indians, around 4% of the country’s population, moved within the country. This was the third largest number of internal migrants among all countries, after China and the US. It does not take much to guess that a large, if not major, fraction of this movement was for work and jobs.
Almost all of our development schemes, such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and others, are geared to localize India’s poor to their homes. The idea behind such schemes is to boost local consumption without an equal effort at generating good jobs. Migration, however, entails persons undertaking productive work elsewhere. These are jobs that are productive. In contrast, most official schemes have a bias towards consumption and seldom pay attention to productivity. The biases behind official developmental efforts are obvious and go some way in understanding the factors that undermine economic growth.
In the three-and-a-half years since its inception, the Centre has spent more than Rs66,000 crore on NREGS. No one knows how much money has been spent on migrants in terms of building skills, housing and relocation, among many other costs of migration. Most of this expenditure is borne by the migrants or their employers in the private sector. While comparisons of this kind are invidious, they bring out our government’s biases against any development that results in productive jobs in stark relief.
If anything, life for this productive set of citizens, who leave homes and the security of their local cultures, is certain to become more difficult. From Punjab to Maharashtra, the political climate against migrants is decidedly negative. No respite is likely on this front.
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