The International Organization for Migration defines a migrant as any person who moves across an international border (external migration) or within a state (internal migration) away from his/her habitual place of residence. Migration denotes this movement of people. The stream of migration is classified on the basis of origin and destination as i) rural-rural, ii) rural-urban, iii) urban-rural and iv) urban-urban or as i) interstate and ii) intrastate.
The Census of India data suggests that India witnesses more internal migration than external migration. As per Census-2011, India had 45.6 crore migrants in 2011 (38% of the population) compared to 31.5 crore migrants in 2001 (31% of the population).
People migrate due to various push and pull factors like demographic, social infrastructure, economic, political and environmental factors. Based on the Census 2011 data, some of the major causes of internal migration in India are as follows:
The pursuit of better economic opportunities is a major force driving migration in India. Lack of sufficient work opportunities, lower wages, chronic poverty and low consumption in the rural areas act as a push factor for people. The Census of 2011 suggests that around 11.18% of the migration happened due to employment/business reasons. For long, rural-urban migration has been plaguing rural areas but limited efforts from the state haven’t succeeded in curbing it.
MNREGA, 2005 was enacted to provide economic security, creating rural assets, protecting the environment, empowering rural women, reducing rural-urban migration and fostering social equity. But in the last decade, the programme has been suffering from inadequate budgetary allocations, long wage delays and non-payments. Further, the centralisation of the implementing mechanism has weakened the system by reducing the accountability of the local representatives.
COVID-19 has brought to fore the loopholes that MNREGA suffers in dealing with a public emergency.
Uneven population distribution, lack of affordable and quality education forces people to migrate to urban areas and overseas. Census data suggests that the age group between 10-19 accounts for 57.5% of the total migrant population (1.77%) who migrate to pursue a better education. Urban areas have emerged as the centres of modern education with better quality and infrastructure of education.
This pull towards a sophisticated education system is a result of privatisation of education, the concentration of educational infrastructure in certain pockets and the availability of opportunities and future options. One of the areas where the Indian education system has been struggling is primary education. Attempts have been made to ensure equity in educational endeavours through initiatives like the Right to Education Act, Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan, Mid-day Meal Scheme, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, etc.
However, despite these efforts, the school dropout rate has been a concern, especially with the girl child. Lack of proper sanitation facilities, lack of awareness, gender stereotypes, dogmas around teaching girl child haven’t yet been addressed. The National Education Policy 2020 promises to do away with traditional issues but lack of government infrastructure in the rural areas and a greater push for privatisation could still create hurdles in achieving the targets.
Bihar witnessed two severe spells of acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in the year 2014 and 2019. The government took steps to curb the illness in the state but the 2019 wave exposed all the half-hearted efforts. This was one of the most highlighted issues in the last decade. The onset of COVID-19 unmasked the cracking health infrastructure in India. Reports suggest that with 8.5 hospital beds per 10,000 citizens and eight physicians per 10,000, the country’s healthcare sector is not equipped for such a crisis.
More than 80% population doesn’t have any significant health insurance coverage, and around 68% of Indians have limited/no access to essential medicines. This inequity in access to health care is influenced by social class and geographical location, with rural areas being at the bottom of the pyramid. Reports suggest that the private health sector owns 60% of hospitals and 75% of dispensaries and employs 80% of all qualified doctors in India. According to the National Health Profile (NHP) data, govt. spent a meagre 1.28% of the GDP in health while the average for OECD countries in 2018 was 8.8% of GDP.
Migration leads to a significant improvement in the rural economy through increased socio-economic remittances. As a consequence of increased household income and overall wellbeing, aversion of agricultural risks and uncertainty, food and nutrition security is taken care of. But at the same time, migrants struggle to establish themselves in the urban hubs and continuously fight the battle of eroding identity.
The exploitation of the workers, especially women, is covered up in the name of contract labour systems. Migrants lose their state-sponsored entitlements like the access to healthcare, housing benefits, benefits under the PDS as these are not portable across states which compromise their food security and make them vulnerable. While there have been efforts to integrate the migrant aspirations by introducing schemes like One Nation One Ration Card, the execution still remains to be seen.
A huge influx of migrant workers also leads to the growth of ‘urban informal economy’ and ‘urban slums’ marked with poverty and vulnerabilities. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana aimed at financial inclusion but it would be no good if there is a lack of livelihood opportunities for the poor. Similarly, while the intent behind the relief package announced as a COVID-19 response was good, schemes like the PM KISAN would be of no use to the seasonal migrants as a number of them are landless.
The government could use this COVID-19 distress induced reverse migration as an opportunity to introduce an integrated National Migration Policy to ensure protection for migrant workers and further strengthen the Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979. A recommendation by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour suggested introducing a social security number for migrant workers, especially those working in the unorganised sectors.
It would help create a protection net for migrant workers by taking care of the conditions of work, terms of employment and access to basic amenities along with ensuring ample employment opportunities for seasonal migrants. The government could aim to strengthen the Skill Development Program as it would enhance the entrepreneurial abilities of the migrant workers who could sell the products and services thus triggering a much needed rural circular economy.
A strong will to resolve migrant issues would help us move away from the rhetoric of “Atma-nirbharta” and achieve social equity.
When any crisis affects society, the highest impact is on the population on the bottom of the social pyramid. If this happens frequently, the social system reeks of injustice against the marginalized. Therefore, it’s important to choose your sides carefully!