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Migration in India – a cause of socio-ethnic friction

In India, more people migrate due to lack of opportunities in their native place rather than a spirit of exploration, creating social problems in the region they move to.

By Pravin Kumar Singh
December 23, 2008

Migration has been defined as crossing of the boundary of a political or administrative unit for a certain minimum period of time. It includes the movement of refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people as well as economic migrants. Internal migration refers to a move from one area (a province, district or municipality) to another within one country.  According to Classical theories, migration is a rational decision made by an individual to move from a less advantageous situation, to a more advantageous one after weighing risks and benefits.

In recent years, a very high rate of internal migration has been witnessed in India. Employment, by far, remains the biggest cause of migration in the country. Studies have found that the inter-state movement is not very high and most people remain within the same state after migration. However literate people constitute a vast majority of the migrants. Though considered by many as a natural and, at times, a beneficial process, it has led to several problems in the Indian scenario. Though the freedom to reside in any part of the country has been enshrined in the Indian constitution as a fundamental right, experience has shown that it has only created friction points within the society.

Several push and pull factors exist in the country which are responsible for the large-scale migration. India has high levels of regional disparity in terms of population distribution and development indicators. Most of the north Indian states are poor in infrastructure facilities and are also highly populated. Hence a large number of people from states like Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar migrate to other states in search of jobs. Low and variable agricultural production coupled with lack of local employment opportunities are the biggest cause of movement of people outside the state. In states like Orissa, landlessness and marginalisation of the poor people turns out to be the main cause of them moving to other more developed regions of the country in the hope of a better livelihood. Though factors like internal conflicts and political unrest have not become a significant cause for migration as yet, government must guard against them in the long run, particularly in the Naxalite belt.

Maharashtra, Gujarat, the south Indian states and other states in northern parts of the country like Haryana, Punjab and Delhi have become attractive destinations for the migrant population. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation of these areas have generated more employment opportunities and also created better infrastructure.  People migrate to these regions perceiving them as greener pastures. However several factors make them vulnerable as they enter new territories. They create pressure on the job market and start competing with the local populate. Since migrant people are usually more willing to work on lower wages, they dent the prospects of locals in the area getting jobs. This creates a situation of social and ethnic unrest and has even lead to violence in many states in India.

There is an urgent need to formulate a planned, long-term strategy to counter the problem. Though the government has launched several anti-poverty and infrastructure generating schemes, most of the villages in India still do not have even the bare minimum amenities. The crux to solving this problem is to generate full-time employment opportunities in the rural areas. Agriculture must be given top priority as it employs a large number of people and it is only when there is a slump in this sector that people in rural areas migrate to the cities. Government must take steps to encourage private enterprise in rural and semi-urban areas so that educated people do not move to bigger cities in search of jobs.

Initiatives like PURA (Provision of Urban amenities in Rural Areas) must be promoted on a large scale to bridge the rural-urban divide in terms of infrastructure. Private sector too must be involved in rural infrastructure development projects by providing them incentives like tax-holidays and rebates. Though it will perhaps never be possible to stop migration completely, the approach should be of managing it in such a way that no ethnic or social frictions are created across the country. Rural areas across the country must have all the amenities to ensure that people of younger generation choose to remain in there instead of moving to the bigger cities. If they still decide to migrate to bigger cities, the choice should be dictated more by a spirit of exploration rather than compulsion to move out due to lack of opportunities.

The author is a social activist.