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We’ll take the town

india Updated: Mar 15, 2008 23:43 IST
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In Ludhiana’s cinema halls showing Bhojpuri movies, it is tough to get tickets. In Surat, getting a job is easier than a train reservation for Bihar or UP. In a cluster of villages outside Amritsar, most landlords are from UP.

Bade Lal Chaurasia’s father shifted to Ludhiana from Uttar Pradesh, set up a small paan shop, which is now a landmark. Chaurasia now employs a chartered accountant to look at his finances (after an Income Tax raid).

This migrant story is now repeated many times over all over the country and — sorry to disappoint Raj Thackeray — these people are are not headed for cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Their destination is a Category-II city or town like Ludhiana, Surat or Kochi. The pace is lot less hectic, there are plenty of jobs going around — they feel wanted — and they are relatively free of idle xenophobes.

This trend was first recorded during 1991. Now, of course, it is official that some of India’s second-rung cities are the new hot destinations at a time when in-migration is consistently slowing down in most metros. Delhi and Bangalore are exceptions to that trend. But Mumbai and Kolkatta, two of India’s top destinations of the Fifties and Sixties, are falling behind. And if Thackeray continues to act tough, Mumbai may drop completely.

In places like Kochi, Ludhiana and Surat, the percentages of in-migrants are higher than the population growths. The Census of India figures of in-migration as a percentage of decennial growth have been a staggering 77.7 per cent in Kochi, 75.2 per cent in Ludhiana, 67.3 per cent in Surat and Nasik. The big daddies scored between 37 and 49 per cent: Kolkata at 37.5 per cent, Hyderabad at 41.9 per cent, Chennai at 43.4 per cent, Delhi at 48.3 per cent and Bangalore at 48.9 per cent. Even Greater Mumbai’s in-migration, the highest among metros at 66 per cent of its decennial growth, has been significantly lower than some second rung cities.

Ludhiana already has three migrants as municipal councillors and many locals fear that one day a migrant could easily represent this quintessentially Punjabi city in Parliament. The metro cities are also behind second rung cities in terms of their exponential growth rates, which factors the presence of already-settled migrants in normal growth rates. Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad are growing at 1.8 per cent and 2.6 per cent. (Delhi and Bangalore buck the trend at 4.1 and 3.2 per cent).

In sharp contrast, Surat is growing at 6.16 per cent, Pune at 4.1 per cent, Gandhinagar at 4.7 per cent and Chandigarh at 3.42 per cent. Average annual growth rates of Patna and Lucknow, the capital cities of the two states being blamed for Mumbai’s influx, are also much higher at 3.0 and 4.7 per cent, according to Census figures.

The main concern of policy experts is not that the volume of migration in the country is high. It is the exact opposite. Professor Amitabh Kundu of JNU believes that the slowing countrywide migration rate should be a cause for worry. The percentage of migrants through the decades has fallen from 15 per cent of the total population of the country in 1961 to 9.5 per cent in 2001. At present the highest form of migration is rural-rural (53.35 per cent) where Bihar tops the list with 79.9 per cent people moving from one village to another.

Population expert Om Mathur of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy believes that the dip in India’s rural-urban migration is for the short term and is bound to pick up in the years to come.