Panel discussions

Inter-State Migration: Demography & Economy

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There are many questions around inter-state migration/migrants. These pertain to the changing demography and consequently, social structure, and also outward remittances of migrant workers to their parent-states. These have socio-economic and politico-electoral consequences for both the donor and recipient states, especially the latter, particularly in the context of prevailing and evolving political dynamics and their influence on the society – and hence, the policies of the governments, both in the states and at the Centre.

Dr Bernard D’ Sami

Senior Fellow

Loyola Institute of Social Science Training and Research

When we talk of migration, we include both internal migration within the state and inter-state migration.  All of us may be wondering about the number of inter-state migrants. In 2017, the Economic Survey of India was presented by Mr Arvind Subramanian, the then economic advisor. In that report, he mentioned that there are 9 million people who are migrating from one state to the other for two things: one for job and another for education. The data was pertaining to five years ending 2016. For data collection, they had relied on the people who had travelled in the unreserved compartments in inter-state trains. The 2011 census also captured migration. It is estimated that there are about 450 million migrants in India.   

According to 1991 census, of the total migrants, 55% constituted inter-state migration and 33% was internal migration (within the states). In 20 years, the situation reversed. Less than 33% was inter-state migration and 58% was internal (intra-state) migration.

What is the type of work they do? All of us see them in the construction sites but many migrant workers are working in the manufacturing sector too. When the twin-tower residential building collapsed in Moulivakkam in Chennai some years ago, many migrant workers died and that was the time when Tamil Nadu government decided to take a census of migrant workers. They came to the conclusion that there were 10 lakhs of inter-state migrants in Tamil Nadu and more than 50% of them were living in and around Chennai.

Migration happens both due to push factors and pull factors. Socio-economic disparity that exists in our country, particularly in the northern side of India is a trigger for migration. The migration is of two types: forced migration and distress migration. People move out of their places due to various compelling reasons. There are young people who are 17 or 18 years old among them. Youngsters leave their parents for some reasons and move out. They also move for education. 

Working Group on Migration

In 2015, the Ministry of Urban Development set up a working group on inter-state migration. The working group made many recommendations in the study. They suggested that migrant workers must be enrolled in the Social Security Boards. There is a Welfare Board for every sector. For example, construction workers have a welfare board. One of the things the working group strongly advocated is having data on the number of the inter-state migrants but it is very difficult to capture the exact number of migrants. Tamil Nadu government has tried it out many times.

One of the recommendations by the working group is self-registration. Everybody has a mobile phone and they can do a self-registration through mobile apps, emails, or WhatsApp. They also looked at the portability of social welfare schemes. When the migrant workers move out, they surrender their public distribution system (PDS) quotas in their home state. They should have access to PDS in their destination states. This led to one nation-one ration card scheme.

The working group did not recommend any particular law or laws for the migrant workers. Already, there is an inter-state Workmen’s Act 1979 and there are many other acts. The Labour Department has made all the 44 labour laws into four codes now. The working group suggested that migrant workers be included in all the four codes. But the inter-state Workmen’s Act applies only when people move in groups of more than five. Most of the contractors are bringing migrant workers in numbers of two or three.

Guest, not Migrant

A small state like Kerala has 3.5 million migrant workers. They were the first state to use the term ‘guest worker’ to refer to ‘migrant worker.’ They said that the term migrant worker is derogatory because we have migrant professors, migrant doctors, migrant engineers and so on but we don’t refer to them as migrants. Kerala considers them as replacement workers to replace their own people who have moved to Gulf countries. They receive the workers and take care of them very well.

Today, we see an exodus of people and mass migration. Villages are getting vacated. The migrants lose their voting rights. In the new labour codes, the threshold of workers in a group has been expanded from 5 to 10. So, migrant workers will never be captured hereafter for legal benefits.

The Best States

In my opinion, the best sending state for migrant workers is Orissa because they have everything in place to take care of their workers who move away from their state. All departments—health, education, home and police—work together in addressing the migration. They have established seasonal hostels in many places, so that the children of migrant workers can pursue their education while their families are away. They maintain a very good database, particularly of children on the move. Orissa sends educational volunteers to the destination states like Tamil Nadu to teach the Odisha children in Odiya. Books are coming from their states. 

Undoubtedly, Kerala is the best receiving state. When COVID started, they had more than 15,000 community kitchens and many other programs in place to cater to the needs of the migrant workers. The worker can go to any community kitchen and take his/her food. They get the best wages. Their schools admit children with open arms. Their own population is declining. From six lakhs children per year, it is now reduced to only three lakhs.

Dr Lora Deve Prasana

Assistant Professor

Department of Social Work, Stella Maris College

I would like to cover the findings of many of the case studies done by me of migrant families in Tamil Nadu, as part of my research work. In the studies, I focussed on the plight of women and children, as not many studies were carried out on them. They face lots of discrimination.

Apart from construction and manufacturing industries, there are other types of migrants as well, like doll makers, who make beautiful dolls. They live in pathetic conditions—with plaster of Paris coated all over their bodies. When asked about their health, they say, “When we don’t have a place to stay, when we don’t have even food to eat, how can think of our health?”  

There are kalakutadis—nomadic street performers. They go to the nearby temples and perform folk art, etc. Many of these people are from Bellary, Karnataka.  When asked, many of the migrant women said that they have only three goals in their life: Meals, marriage and children. Having a second meal or third meal seems to be a luxury for them. They always face stigma as migrants. They’re always seen as outsiders, though they may be here for the last 20 years. They are the first targets for the community people and the police. They can be easily cleared from their place of stay. “Do we have a permanent place in this world? Do we even belong here?” is what one migrant woman said. 

We need specific, need-based interventions. When we study social work, we always say that we must move from micro to macro but I think that in this inter-state migration, we have to go from macro to micro. All of us need to be there. We cannot put responsibility only on the government or the NGOs. We all have a very important social responsibility towards these migrants and their families.  

Mr Arun Viknesh

Independent Researcher

I want to cover the plight of migrant children on the move.  Migrant children in India refers to children who have migrated from their place of origin to another place, often due to economic or social reasons. Typically, there are three classifications of child migration: one, migration with parents; second, migrating alone and the third, left behind migrant children.  

The issue of migration in India has gained significant attention due to the pandemic, which left many of them stranded and struggling for survival. One out of every five migrant is a child, according to census 2011. There are 9.3 crore migrant children, with girls constituting more than half. It is observed that girl children migrate more to rural locations and boys migrate more to urban locations. 

According to census 2011, children of zero to 14 age group go to Goa, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. 15 to 19 age group go to Goa, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. In fact, during the 2017 Goa assembly elections, some candidates even floated their election manifesto in Marathi and Kannada to appeal to the migrant voters. The major problems they face are dropping out of education, exploitation, lack of access to health care, gender-based violence and trafficking.

Major policies and programmes of the government are:

  • National Policy for Children 2013
  • Right to Education 2009
  • Integrated Child Development Services 2009
  • Juvenile Justice Act 2015
  • Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan

To quote an ILO 2013 report, “Despite the magnitude of the problem, the needs and interests of migrant children are largely absent from mainstream debates on child protection, child labour and migration.”