Indians, it seems, are perpetually on the move. If you need visual proof of this phenomenon, visit a railway station or an inter-state bus terminus. What fuels such large scale movement? Experts say that along with inter-regional disparities, differences between different socio-economic classes and skewed development polices have accelerated the process of seasonal migration. In tribal areas, migration is fuelled by political violence (as in the case of Maoist-hit areas), intrusion of outsiders, the pattern of settlement, displacement and deforestation. And then there is the new threat of climate change, which will force more people than ever before to migrate. Migrants, poor migrants to be precise, however, are always seen as a burden in their adopted homes.
Fortunately, the Centre has realised that migrants cannot be wished and migrating from one place to another should not mean that they should lose out on State benefits, which is often the case. The Union ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation has set up a task force to understand the migration challenge and going by the five preliminary recommendations it has made, the panel is on the right path. It has asked for portability of the public distribution system within states, creation of migrant helplines and a review of migration-related legal framework: Interstate Migrant Workmen Act 1979, the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act 2008, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna and National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. Importantly, the panel has asked for dormitories in cities and better data collection so as to ensure that there are no barriers to voluntary movement of migrant workers. According to the National Sample Survey, three out of 10 people in India are internal migrants and their total population is around 326 million.
Though states are reluctant to take in such people, they cannot deny that these people are the foot soldiers of the economy. They are the ones who build our roads, bridges, work in factories and farms. The much-celebrated Green Revolution was made possible by the hard work of Bihari migrants. A report in a national daily says that Delhi’s infrastructural work has been delayed by weeks because migrant workers have been hit by dengue and chikungunya. And they have gone back to their villages to access cheaper medical facilities. It is in the best interests of states to support the Centre’s initiative and not treat migrants as pariahs.