Wall Street Journal
India's rapid economic growth in recent times has had an interesting dimension – that of people moving from one place to another in search of better opportunities. The magnitude of movement is by no means small.
K. Seeta Prabhu
Data from the 2001 Census, which is the latest source of data available, shows that 307 million people have moved away from their place of birth, 259 million moved within their state and 42 million have moved from their home state to another. About 100 million, almost the size of Mexico, are circular migrants – those who migrate seasonally in search of work. Over 20 million, the size of Ghana, moved from rural to urban areas.
What is more amazing is that people are willing to move across the length and breadth of the country – and today there are well-established migration corridors. Workers move from Ganjam district in the state of Orissa in eastern India to Surat district in Gujarat in western India. Informal estimates by UNDP show that there were as many as 900,000 migrant workers from Orissa in Gujarat – 600,000 were estimated to be from Ganjam district alone. The travel is mainly from the east to the west across vast territories, dispelling any notion of Indians being sedentary and unwilling to look for better opportunities.
A recent report by the well known development journalist P. Sainath indicates that as many as 50,000 workers in Surat, Gujarat, in the textile and diamond industry had returned home to Ganjam, Orissa because of the recession. In addition, some field studies sponsored by UNDP, also noted the difficulties such semi-skilled workers were having in finding gainful occupations back in their home villages.
What drives migration? This depends on the level of economic development – the movement is mainly from less prosperous regions to states with high growth. The high income states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Punjab, incidentally all in western India, attract a large number of migrants from the lower income states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal. Maharashtra stands at the top of the list of states with 2.3 million net migrants, followed by Delhi, Gujarat and Haryana. These estimates on migration capture only part of the story. Most of the poor migrants work in the informal sector where their existence is not recorded. Migrants are most visible in the metro cities of Mumbai and Delhi. The Municipal Corporation of Mumbai, for example, estimates that there is a floating population of about 2 million to 3 million at any time in the city. Delhi follows Mumbai in terms of attracting the largest numbers of in-migrants with about the same number, a majority of whom find employment in the unorganized sector.
“Migrants from rural areas are usually illiterate or semi-literate and work in the informal sector in cities in the service sector and petty trade, providing key services that make life better for most city inhabitants.”
Why do people migrate and face the hardships associated with it? Do the poor households really benefit? These are questions that are often posed as we see these streams of humanity moving across the country. Some answers are provided in the recent work of Priya Deshingkar and Shaheen Akhtar in a study specially commissioned on India as a contribution to UNDP's just released Global Human Development Report 2009 titled "Removing Barriers: Mobility and Human Development." Based on data emerging from field studies in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, they conclude, that households with at least one migrant have been able to reduce their poverty levels by half between 2001-02 and 2005-06. In Muzaffarnagar district in Bihar, for example, of the households that send circular migrants to Mumbai about 10% have leased small plots of land using earnings from migration, adding to their sources of income. In Gaya district in Bihar as well as Madhubani district in West Bengal, migrants' remittances were used to lease land for productive activities.
The UNDP Prevention of Trafficking and HIV/AIDS in Women and Girls project reported that in 2007, of the 310 women interviewed in Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, 11% reported that migration led to an increase in incomes of families and they could acquire mobile phones and other gadgets. Some 86% of the 310 women interviewed in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh, reported better access to schooling for children, 84% reported better intake of food, and 51% reported better access to health care. Similarly, in Madhubani district in West Bengal, 15% migrants have used remittances for leasing in land. Migration has come to be seen as a crucial coping strategy for households in their efforts to survive in an increasingly competitive world.
Migrants from rural areas are usually illiterate or semi-literate and work in the informal sector in cities in the service sector and petty trade, providing key services that make life better for most city inhabitants.
The contribution of internal migrants to India's GDP is estimated to be as high as 10% in 2007. In Mumbai, the contribution of the service sector to the city's economy is three fourths of the total. The informal sector accounts for 36% of the total income generated in the city with the migrants playing a key role in it. In Delhi, 3.5 million to 4.3 million workers are employed in the unorganized sector. Trade, hotels, and restaurants account for one third of Delhi's unorganized sector employment. Another 27% are employed in the manufacturing sector.
When we take into account international migration, the benefits increase manifold. The total contribution of remittances to India in 2007 was estimated to be $34.3 billion in 2007, which was one and half times the entire amount received as foreign direct investment. The remittances are most often used on care of the elderly and home construction, a fact that is conspicuous in the state of Kerala, for instance. There are also "social dividends" in the form of women's empowerment and wider opportunities for the communities who stay back home.
The role of non-resident Indians has been acknowledged and commended, though they form only a small part of the migration story. The internal migrants are often seen as "intruders" in their destinations and live under constant threat of eviction and harassment. It is time, as the human development report of 2009 says, to remove barriers and recognize that the freedom to choose where to live is a fundamental right of people. Migrants contribute positively to their destinations as well to their places of origin. Studies have indicated that the increased flow of migrants into countries could spur innovation. Data analyzed over a period of 50 years for the U.S., which attracts a large number of migrants from across the world, indicates that a 1.3% rise in the share of migrant university graduates led to an increase in the number of patents issued per capita by a massive 15%. Sensitive policies need to facilitate movement in a globalizing world and not curb this movement.—K. Seeta Prabhu is Senior Assistant Country Director, United Nations Development Programme, New Delhi
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