The world is on the move. So is India. Nearly 1 billion of the estimated 6.7 billion people in the world are migrants — that’s one in every seven persons. Out of this number, some 740 million are internal migrants — moving within various parts of their own country. One in every three Indians is a migrant. According to the United Nations Human Development (UNDP) Report 2009 that was released on Monday, migration can have a significant impact on reducing poverty. Yet the poorest segments of society, who can benefit the most by seeking a better life elsewhere, face barriers thanks to legal, social and financial hurdles. Instead of viewing internal migration as a problem, the UNDP report suggests that governments ensure ‘access and treatment’ to forced migrants.
This, especially in the Indian context, will be easier said than done. Even as India rapidly urbanises, the infrastructure and resource challenges are enormous. With more and more people moving into areas of economic growth, there will be enormous pressure on already stretched resources. Increased movement of people for job opportunities could not only mean choked civic services, but also a Shiv Sena-Maharashtra Navnirman Sena-style politicisation of the issue — despite figures showing that more people in India move about within their own state than migrate to another. How the government harnesses this demographic movement for greater economic good remains to be seen. Policies as well as mindsets have to be changed. Low-skilled migrants, for instance, have to be seen as a potential human resource, not a burden on society.
While migration might be good, we must also look into the causes that propel ‘distress migration’. All kinds of migration, as plenty of evidence in our cities shows, do not bring benefits for migrants. The benefits of migration are often offset by the initial financial outlays and the risks involved in setting off. Movement of people will increase in the coming years. Ensuring that migrants get the same benefits as those available to other citizens will be a challenge. Internal migration is an effect of unequal growth, at least in India. Developing the hinterland, spreading the fruits of growth and ensuring job opportunities in backward regions will stop unwanted migration. But migration itself is the sign of a nation’s dynamism. Just one rule should apply: to find the proverbial greener pastures.