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Opinion Distress Pushing Migration In India

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
EDITORIAL - South Asia Post - September 30, 2011

Distress pushing migration in India

ANY keen observer can easily notice that Punjab during the last decade or so has been on the move. We have a large scale migration of workers from across the country, engaged in farms, factories and other small jobs. Over ten lakh are engaged in eking their living from poverty stricken states like Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, and even from Nepal. Same is the picture all across the country. Delhi has some 40 lakh migrants. Chandigarh has over four lakh migrant working class people. Though their contribution to economic activities is tremendous, but the state has failed to protect their rights and look after their welfare.

What is true about the migration into Punjab is true about the out migration from Punjab. Here too it seems that the whole of Punjab is deserting and moving to greener pastures in North America; USA and Canada, to countries in Europe, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Arabian countries. Name a country Punjabis are there. Some countries, particularly in the western hemisphere have well laid laws to protect the rights of the workers and to minimize their exploitation; others like the Gulf have very little protection. Interestingly, while under the globalised regime, capital flows more freely than labour and goods. There are plenty of restrictions imposed by capitalist regimes.

In India, there are clear signals that large scale rural population is moving into urban centers; towns and cities. The latest data from the 2011 census shows that for the first time since 1921, urban India has added more numbers than its rural counterpart. Another fact that comes to light is that between 1991 and 2001, seven million people left agriculture and moved to urban areas. This number continues to rise. Final figures expected to be released next year would sure show that many more farmers have left their age old profession of cultivation and moved to towns and cities. Reason is poor public spending in agriculture since the reforms set in 1990s. Our farm sector growth has been around two to three per cent per annum.

There are other worrisome signs that the latest census throws up, particularly relating to gender inequality. Now the World Bank’s ‘World Development Report 2012’ has come up with more shaming numbers. There is a clear indication of “natal inequality.” The report, titled ‘Gender Equality and Development,’ notes that were it not for China and India, an additional 1.2 million girls would have been born in the world. China is more “son struck” than India. While the 2011 Census revealed a small improvement in the overall sex ratio, from 932.91 females for every 1000 males in 2001 to 940.27, but a steep fall in ratio for the 0-6 age group, from 927.31 to 914.23. Do we have any answer for this?

India's rural population now is 90.6 million higher than it was a decade ago. But the urban population is 91 million higher. The Census experts cite migration, natural increase and inclusion of new areas as urban as reasons. But these three factors were there in 2001 when additions to the rural population were higher than the urban. These do not fully explain this new trend; particularly when the decadal growth percentage of population records the sharpest decline since independence.

Census in 1921 showed the impact of 1918 Influenza epidemic that killed between 11 and 22 million. There was also the impact of World War I that claimed lives tens of thousands of Indian soldiers. Experts tell of different tale behind. There is a clear indication people are losing livelihood in farming and related occupation and are moving in droves to towns and cities. In Punjab alone, over one million people have left farming and joined the ranks of pauperized peasants. This is being termed as despair-driven escape. But worst is that cities are not ready with any gainful employment. A woeful lack of infra structure turns them into living hell. The 12th plan draft notes this tragic aspect and urges for better planning. But it fails to capture the complex nature of mass migration taking place in India. Take the case of Punjab and Haryana, the two states have migrant farm workers, industrial labour and men and women working in various other avocations as domestic helps, rich rickshaw pullers and doing odd jobs. All towns and cities are fast turning into vast slums, causing stress on the existing infra structure. Ludhiana is rated as of the dirtiest cities in the country. Look around the national capital, Delhi, the picture is perhaps the worst.

This is how Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India Dr. C. Chandramouli describes this: “Fertility has declined across the country. There has been a fall in numbers even in the 0-6 age group, as a proportion of the total population. In fact, in absolute numbers too, this group (now 158.8 million) has declined by five million, compared to the previous Census. This would suggest migrations as a significant factor in urban growth. But what kind of migrations we can only ascertain or comment on when their patterns emerge more clearly. The Census in itself is not structured to capture short-term or footloose migrations.”

This means the male workforce in agriculture has collapsed in thousands of villages, falling to less than a quarter of all workers. So the farm exodus continues. What might the 2011 data on cultivators show us when it is out late next year? It could show us that the numbers quitting cultivation since 2001 might equal or exceed the over seven million dropouts of the previous decade. But our policy makers at best pay lip sympathy.

source: http://www.southasiapost.org/2011/20110930/edit.htm