Why I care
When I moved to India my first glimpse was of blue tarps and Mumbai’s airport slum.
It shocked me. Even though I knew of its existence, as I looked out my flight window the reality of twenty million people, nearly as many as Australia’s entire population, live in Mumbai. Half are homeless.
Four years on, I have since visited villages of Madhya Pradesh, and seen the good work of the Satpura Integrated Rural Development Institution, (SIRDI), Madhya Pradesh and witnessed the life of Tribals in MP.
Now I find myself disgusted that my native country of Australia has made the arrival of 153 boat people from Sri Lanka a national emergency when Pakistan has 1.5 million refugees, shores of France, and unaccompanied children flee to the USA.
That racist politics of a minority in key marginal seats has exploited the fear of terrorism with half truths to use the military to intercept unarmed refugees with military secrecy seems against the principles of informed democracy and moral decency.
I believe the ultimate in cowardice is to blame others so we don’t have to look at ourselves.
India also cares for political refugees, however rural migration is primarily economic.
India has helped me to treasure respect the decency of those struggling for a better life.

“So long as your state does not develop we will continue to have problems in Mumbai. ..We keep getting three trainloads of people into Mumbai daily from states like MP, Bihar, UP and Rajasthan and one trainload goes back with those unable to get jobs. How can we cope with such a situation? It’s not a Marathi versus Hindiwallah confrontation, but about the lack of development in these populous states I am talking about.” Congress politician  Shrwad Pawar  to journalist Abhilash Khandekar (Shivraj Singh and the Rise of Madhya Pradesh, Abhilash Khandekar:118).

India’s migration is largely a survival or subsistence strategy in response to economic and social conditions. A second reason is short term attempt to supplement the income during low periods of seasonal employment.

Migration is a mix of being compelled by “push factors” or drawn, by opportunity, or “Pull factors”.

“Migration in search of livelihood is a stark reality in India today. The bleak livelihood scenario in backward, hilly, tribal, desert, drought-prone, rain fed, flood-effected, high density or conflict ridden areas has led to the emergence of migration as a survival strategy” writes Dr Gopal Kalkoti who estimates India’s internal migrants to exceed 100 million.

“Preferred for their cheap labour, most of these migrants work in the informal sector devoid of social security and legal protection. Lack of portability of entitlements across State borders makes them lead a subhuman existence, devoid of access to basic services and labour rights.”

India’s urban population was 17% in 1951, but will reach 42% in 2025, meanwhile the rural population has decreased from 82 to 68.9 percent in the last 50 years.

Agricultures share of GDP has declined from 40% in the 1990’s to 15% presently.  At 23% of GNP agriculture sustains 70% of the population. Agricultures decline is a catalyst for migration as farming community of looking for other alternatives opportunities.

But here is more to migration than tales of sorrow. The results of urban migration are a mix of good and bad: increased income but poor living conditions. The market driven economy with its increased telecommunications has reduced migration costs.  It has the potential ti contribute to the economy.  Indeed, migration is a boon for industry and has helped many under employed rural people.

In 2007 -2008 the National Sample survey Office random sampled 572,254 people from 79,091 rural and 46,487 urban households from 7921 villages and 4688 urban blocks. The survey was nationwide except for Leh, the Kargil district of Jammu Kashmir interior Nagaland, and villages in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The report entitled “Migration in India, 2007-2008” found:

  • Most migration remains within the state (72% in urban; 78% rural). The proportion of migrants is 35% of urban population and 26% rural.
  • Nearly 57% had migrated from rural areas and 29% from urban households. The majority migrated for employment (55% of those moved to rural and 67 in urban homes).
  • The majority of women migrating were for marriage: 91% rural, 61% urban.
  • Rural male migration has declined. 28.6% of rural males and 0.7% of rural males migrated for work. Only 4% of non literate males migrated, 14% of graduates or above. Urban illiterate males were 17% compared to 38% of graduates.
  • The lowest rate of migration was among scheduled castes.
  Industry Percentage
1 Construction 41.6, often seasonal workers
2 Agriculture 23.6
3 Manufacture 17
4 Mining/quarrying 1.1
5 Trade 7.3
6 Transport 16.8

There are 40 million migrants in the construction sector, 20 million domestics, 11 million in textiles, 10 million in brick kilns. The number of migrants in Construction increased by 26.5 million from 2000 – 2010 (Kalkuti: 14, 15).



Why? The Reasons:

“Migration does not necessarily signify a rejection of the rural livelihood” explains Dr Shrikanta K. Panigrahi (2014:11-13), Director General of The Indian Institute of sustainable Development, New Delhi. Survival strategies  extend beyond the immediate vicinity, but are also linked into other economies rural and urban locations. “It is precisely the inter-linkage which supports rural communities and helps them to survive in such climactically unstable environments.”

Push Factors: Compulsion, distress

Population pressure: depleting resources
Decreasing per capita land availability: 80 of famers now have uneconomical medium or small land plots. Increased farmer suicides or leaving the land.
Declining yieldsLack of livelihood opportunities & under employment: Coupled with absence of day schools, health care, financial institutions and suitable markets.
Secondly, locals are expected to be content with paying the social and cultural costs entailed in development caused by modern markets that undermine local crafts and skills. Ecological disturbances caused by large-scale mining and power generation cause soil erosion and pollution. The benefits from coal mining, power generation and timber felling felt by urban middle class, are often at the cost of land based poor.
Improvement in communications and transport: Cyclic or migration is an ancient Indian tradition, But improved roads make it easier for farmers to earn supplementary income elsewhere and return home for the owing season.
Marriage: 61% of urban & 91% rural females moved because of marriage.
Climate Refugees: increased floods and droughts are anticipated to reduce cereal crop yield by 2.5-10% in South, South-East and East Asia. A 1 degree Celsius rise in annual mean temperature above pre-industrialised levels may reduce developing nations GDP by 1.75%.
Dr Hefin Jones of Cardiff University anticipates 30 million environmental refugees in the next 50 years. Rising Sea levels would alter the Ganga-Brahma Putra Delta including the Sunderbans making 70,000 homeless by 2020.Legally India assists 200,000 refugees from surrounding countries. Migration from China and Bangladesh would increase.

Pull Factors

Opportunity, better education, healthcare, modern transport, opportunity, growing craze of urban life.

The effects:

Migrants often report increased incomes but may suffer poorer living conditions. However, many from poor or remote villages have increased their living standard and invest money in the agriculture of their home village.

The supply of workers could result in increased education of the workforce.

Urbanisation:  The UN estimates 60% of urban growth in the developing world is natural increase, the rest migration.
Rural Depopulation:
Equalising social status: 
Bihari’s used to a frugal and rustic lifestyle  held back by caste pollution were often seriously deficient but lived an isolated life not aware of outside opportunities. Migration has released many from stratified caste taboos and economic gain (Amarendra:29-31).
Remittances  10% of rural households who receive money from migrating family paid debts; 13% for saving, investment. India received $24.6 billion in 2005-2006; the highest in the world. A UN study in 2000 found Bangladeshi women sent 72% of their earnings home.
Poor management  Uncontrolled migration has forced migrants to take up rickshaw pulling, roadside cart vendors, congestion and sometimes crime.

Pavement Dweller Bhopal

Pavement Dweller Bhopal

Health Effects

“In India, in is the migration which has been shredding the moral fabric of the migrant population, shattering the family structure and disturbed the whole economic and social structure of the society” In a survey Kanpur Nagar district 3/5th of migrants Issues of acclimatization, lack of basic facilities including water, sanitation, lack of toilets, poor or no housing, joblessness, idleness, deprivation and disease.

The Kanpur Nagar study found that while those settled permanently ia way from their native home were more deprived than migrants returning to their homes, but returning migrants suffered more ill effects.

The incidents of disease in rural migrants was 72.10%  Incidents for in returning migrants were higher than in migrants, for example, gastrointestinal (19.57 returning;  9.14 in-migrant), diabetes (10.33; 2.79), Back pain (10.97; 3.22). The exception being handicap (13,54% in migrants, 5.98% returning) and  visual impairment  (10.21 in-migrant; returning 4.35).

Returning migrants were less likely to have bad habits than in migrants:  40.6 of returning immigrants did not indulge in bad habits, for in migrants only 18 percent had not succumbed. These habits included gambling, chewing Gutka, tobacco, beedhi’s, drinking, or drugs in the form of charos and ganjha filled cigarettes. About 4% have resorted to stealing.

Possible Solutions

Providing urban facilities in Rural Areas (PURA)

PURA uses public and private partnerships to provide rural infrastructure. Conceived by  former President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam it provides drinking water, sanitation, sewerage, village streets, drainage, solid waste management and skill development.

However, Hassan and Khan (2000:33) reported return immigrants alleged  corruption in the system.

Wage Opportunities

Increasing nonfarm rural activities will stimulate wage opportunities.

The  Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment  Guarantee Act ensures 100 days paid employment.  However, the real benefits do not always reach the target group and there are loopholes in implementation and accounting.

A study of 18 Panchayats in Dindigul district Tamil Nadu found after implementation migration stopped in 5  Panchayat where MGNREGA was applied. Migration continued where it was not implemented.

Vocational training and rural colleges

Making Agriculture Pay

Farmers see failure cultivation costs rise and declining yields. Sustainable agriculture with high yield seeds and irrigation may help. However, claims by some seed producers, including GM, have caused losses to farmers in the past.


A secondary income source for many, emphasizing the the National Dairy Plan may help increase milk yields in local areas.

The Prospects

The World Population Council anticipates India’s productive population (of 15 to 60 year olds) will stop increasing by 2025 then decrease to 62% of the population by 2050.

If migration continues to be seen as an escape route, then by extension, a brain drain of skilled professionals emigrating from India will hamper the nations future.

Unless migration is seen as “a social process that promotes  that promotes that contrivbutes to the well being of the society, that promotes cultural diversity, specialisation and division of labour and spirit of unity among diversity” explains Parveen Kumar, Rehbar-e Zirat (agricultural guide) with Jamma Kashmir .


Articles for this post were taken from Kurukshetra, Ministry of rural Development, Vol. 62 No. 11 Pages 52, Sept. 2014.

These include:

Tarique Hassan & Prof. Jabir Hasan Khan, Repercussions of Migrant or Rural Migrants A case study.
Kumar Amarendra Narain, Impact on rural Migration on Agricultural labourers from Biar and Assam.
Parveen Kumar, Consequences of rural Migration.
Srikanta Panigrahi, Environmental Refugees- the result of another form of forced rural migration.
Gopal Kalkoti, The status of rural migration-need for development initiatives.