It has been believed for several decades now that migration in the Indian sub-continent has been historically low. Kingsley Davis in his 1951 work titled ‘The Population of India and Pakistan’, has attributed this to prevalence of caste system, joint families, traditional values, diversity of language and culture, lack of education and predominance of agriculture and semi-feudal land relations. However, the rapid transformation of the economy, improvement in the levels of education, transport and communication facilities, shift of workforce from agriculture to industry and service activities have provided a new impetus to India’s mobility patterns.
A person is defined as migrant if his or her place of birth or place of last residence is different from the place of enumeration. Compared with place of birth, place of last residence is more appropriate to study internal migration. As per 2001 census, the total number of internal migrants was 309 million based on place of last residence that constituted nearly 30 per cent of total population. Although number of internal migrants has doubled since 1971 (from 159 million in 1971 to 309 million in 2001), the proportion continues to be around 30 per cent except 1991 census when it has declined to 27 per cent to the total population. It is generally accepted that migration has slowed down during the decade 1981-91 as a result of increased unemployment and sluggish growth in the Indian economy. However, the recent migration trend emerging from Census 2001 as well as the 55th round (1999-2000) of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) shows that migration has picked up during 1991-2001 after India’s economic liberalisation was initiated in 1991.
Rural urban migration
In India, majority of migrants are intra-district migrants (62 per cent) which result on account of females customarily changing parental households and joining their husbands’ after marriage. On the other hand, the share of inter-district and inter-state migrants was 24 and 13 per cent, respectively (Table 1).
Majority of migrants are not only short distance migrants (intra-district migrants), but also move from rural to rural areas. Rural to urban migration constitutes only 15 per cent of within state migration which goes up to 40 per cent in case of long distance migration (inter-state) (Fig 1).
The rural to urban migration is also an important factor for the urbanization of the country. The contribution of net rural to urban migration (rural to urban migration minus urban to rural migration) in urban growth during the 1990s at the national level is estimated to be nearly 21 per cent. Out of this about 8 per cent was contributed by inter-state rural to urban net migration, and the rest 13 per cent is added by the net within state rural to urban migration in the urban areas. At the state level, the share of net rural to urban migration in urban growth is observed much higher in some of smaller states and Union Territories. Among the major states, Gujarat tops the list with 36 per cent of urban growth contributed by net rural to urban migration closely followed by Maharashtra and Haryana. Punjab stands at par with national average in contribution of migration in urban growth. Most of the northern and north-eastern states reveal even much lower contribution of net rural to urban migration in urban growth than the national average. The most important fact emerging from the assessment of the contribution of migration in urban growth is that the rural to urban migration is not the predominant contributor of India’s urbanisation rather it is natural growth (birth rate minus death rate) as pointed out in a 2009 paper titled ‘Emerging Pattern of Urbanisation and the Contribution of Migration in Urban Growth in India’ published in the journal of Asian Population Studies by S. Mohanty and me. Yet in absolute term, net rural to urban migration adds about 1.5 million population per annum to urban India which is huge from point of view of urban planning and meeting of basic needs for the urban population.
Seasonal and temporary migration
The NSSO has made an effort to capture the seasonal and temporary migrations not generally captured in the census. It is found that many people make frequent visits to a workplace in year’s time particularly during the off season at the place of usual place of residence. The seasonal and temporary migrants work for short duration in activities like construction, brick making, stone quarrying, fisheries, plantation, rice mills, paddy cultivation and harvesting etc. Many of such migrants are likely to be poor and belong to Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste categories. NSSO tried to estimate the seasonal and temporary migration by asking a question whether anybody stayed away 60 days or more from the present usual place of residence for employment or in search of employment during the last 365 days preceding the date of survey. About 10 million were estimated to be seasonal/ temporary migrants, out of which 1.7 million were located in Uttar Pradesh, 1.5 million in Madhya Pradesh, and 1 million each in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar.
The seasonal and temporary migration is an important livelihood strategy of India’s poor who are mainly located in the tribal and forested tracts of mid-India.