307 million Indians report themselves as migrants. Raju Rai is one among them. He lives 1,980 km from home. Himadri Ghosh, Indiaspend, explores the lives of migrant workers in India
Raju Rai was 17 when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to leave his village in Jharkhand’s overwhelmingly rural Jamtara district in search of a livelihood. He’s 22 now and earns Rs 10,000 (£100) a month, painting buildings in Bangalore, about 1,980 km to the southwest.
“As a gift, God gave us poverty,” said the lean, unsmiling young man, whose chief ambition is to save enough money, find his sister a “good man” and “get her married with dhoom-dham (in style)”.
Rai’s story is common among many of the 307 million Indians who report themselves to be migrants by place of birth, according the 2001 census report (the 2011 data is not final). Of these, 268 million (85 percent) migrated within their state, 41 million (13 percent) migrated to another state and 5.1 million (1.6 percent) left India.
Men primarily migrated long-distance as migrant labour to earn more money – marriage was a prime reason for women – and an IndiaSpend analysis found that migration largely correlates with a state’s investment in infrastructure.
States with lower per capita infrastructure spending typically – but not always – have lower per capita incomes, sparking large migrations, according to finance ministry data.
Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh are among the states with lower infrastructure spending and low per capita incomes. High infrastructure spending states like Goa, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Haryana and Gujarat also have higher per capita incomes.
So, India is witnessing wide variations in per capita income and growing levels of distress migration from low-income states, experts said.
“Such large flows of migration from village to city have unsettling political and economic effects,” said Sukumar Muralidharan, fellow at the Shimla-based Indian Institute of Advanced Study, a think-tank run by the ministry of human resource development.
Infrastructure is important, but there are other reasons
While infrastructure appears to be the overwhelming link between per capita income and migration, there are important exceptions.
Consider India’s richest state, Goa, which has a per capita income of Rs 224,138 ($3,300), the same as Indonesia ($3,491) and Ukraine ($3,082).
Goa’s per capita infrastructure spending is the highest in India, Rs 36,516. Haryana and Maharashtra stand second and third, respectively, in per capita income, and also in per capita spending on infrastructure.
Maharashtra and Delhi have high in-migration rates, accounting for 16.4 percetn and 11.6 percent of the country’s total migration. The large inflow of people into states like Maharashtra (nearly 8 million in 2001) and Delhi (over five-and-a-half million in 2001) is because of the opportunities they offer.
Now consider Bihar, with a per capita income of Rs.31,199 ($589), and Uttar Pradesh’s Rs.36,250, ($534), which are less than Mali ($704) and Guinea ($539).
Bihar spends Rs 13,139 per capita on infrastructure and Uttar Pradesh Rs 9,793.
Compared to Maharashtra and Delhi, the inflow of people to states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is limited: Only 1,794,219 and 2,972,111 people migrated to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh In 2001.
The exceptions are evident in prosperous states with low infrastructure spending, such as Punjab and Kerala, and low-income states with relatively higher per capita infrastructure spending, such as Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.
The precise reasons are not clear, but uneven geography, diverse demography, culture and politics could be reasons for the breaks in pattern, experts said. Attention to the social sector, as in Kerala, is an explanation.
Although the responsibility for promoting equity and equitable development is shifting to the states, as IndiaSpend has reported, the Centre has a role, said Ajitava Raychaudhuri, professor of economics at Jadavpur University. “States need pragmatic planning,” he said. “Equity across states needs focused intervention from the Central government.”
The importance of backward regions, under-invested sectors and local jobs
In the power sector, the thumb-rule is that every rupee invested in generation should be backed by an equivalent sum invested in transmission and distribution, said IIAS’ Muralidharan.
“As against this 1:1 ratio, the record in India has been closer to 8:2,” he said.
Unplanned investment can be as responsible as low investment for disparities, some argue.
Samantak Das, chief economist and national director at Knight Frank India, a global real estate consultancy, explained that vote bank politics is causing disparities as people from backward states depend more on their leaders, and leaders of all hues take advantage to translate this into votes.
“We need evenly-distributed, strategically-planned infrastructure in the country. We have to have social infrastructure, physical infrastructure because infrastructure has a high positive rub-off effect on growth,” Das added.
Raychaudhuri said the future can be secure only if capital expenditure and environmental planning are increased simultaneously.
The rural-urban divide-and, migration-can be addressed by encouraging micro, small and medium enterprises locally.
As evidence grows that the job-creating potential of large industry is falling in India, migration appears to be growing.
India’s urban population has grown faster than its rural population since the last Census, according to provisional 2011 census data.
The proportion of migrants in the urban population was 35% in 2007-08, when measured by the National Sample Survey.
This intermingling plays out in growing reports of conflicts with outsiders in various Indian states.
“Migrations lead to ethnic and cultural stereotyping and intolerance towards people seen as different due to competitive politics,” Muralidharan said.
Since infrastructure spending is a major factor in economic growth, it is important that related budgetary allocations rise to India’s more backward states, particularly their backward regions, said Sidhartha Mitra, head of the economics department at Jadavpur University.
The exceptions to the rule indicate, he said, that social-sector spending is equally important.
(Himadri Ghosh is with 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroot journalists.