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Are Indians moving more freely within the country?

The Census data says so, but it is difficult to accept the result without resolving serious anomalies in the data

analysis Updated: Jul 17, 2018 13:19 IST
migration,internal migration,census data
With only 13% of the total migrants in the country, the interstate migrants form a small minority. The corresponding figure for urban migrants, according to Census 2001 data, stands at 25% of the total migrants.(HT)

The long-awaited data on internal migration from Census 2011 are now trickling into the public domain in instalments. These show that the slightly declining trend of migration (or its stability), as observed over the past four decades, has been reversed. The number of migrants going by the place of last residence in the country was 314.5 million in 2001. The figure has gone up to 453.6 million in 2011 which shows an increase of 139 million. This is against the figure of 82 million migrants added during 1991-2001, implying that the decadal increase in migration has gone up from 35.5% during 1991-01 to 44.2% in 2001-11.

It is difficult to accept this result without resolving serious anomalies in the data. A large percentage of migrants habitually did not report their duration of stay. This had gone up significantly during 1991 and 2001, the non-reporting percentage being as high as 25 in urban areas. Many among the recent migrants do not mention when they have arrived in the city, apprehensive that by doing so they will encounter difficulties in accessing certain basic amenities from public agencies or face hostility in the local community and neighbourhood.

Interestingly, the Census appears to have solved this problem through the data collection/tabulation procedure. The figures which have not been reported both in rural and urban areas, are negligible — less than half a per cent. How this happened is a mystery and remains so even after several months of the data being released. A paper bymyself and PC Mohanan, currently a member of National Statistical Commission, has drawn attention to this anomaly. While no one disagrees with the proposition that this discrepancy will create problems, no attempt has been made by any official or non-official agency to resolve this.

The Economic Survey for 2017 has introduced new evidence to confirm the thesis of a spurt in migration in recent years and that Indians are much more mobile than it was generally believed. Dismissing the postulate that the geographical, linguistic and other social divisions is constraining the movement of Indians across states, the Survey presents evidence — rail traffic data as well as changes in population distribution across different age cohorts — to show that the movement of people across states is much larger than what has been determined using the data from Census and National Sample Survey (NSS). The Survey holds that there has been happy integration of the labour market in the country.

The understanding that the process of migration and urbanisation is very open, and that the people in backward regions in rural areas, dispossessed of their economic or social opportunities, can freely move into the developed regions or urban areas needs to be examined with empirical rigour. There are various exclusionary factors such as differential access to land, lack of basic amenities, increase in user charges of urban services, and inhospitable social environment for the migrants over time affecting their inflow adversely. However, while the evidence indicating an increase in the mobility of men is tenuous, the migration of women linked to the strategy of seeking livelihood had gone up over the past three decades both in rural and urban areas. Marriage-related mobility of women is determined by socio-cultural factors that change slowly over time; the recent spurt must therefore be attributed to migration due to economic reasons.

Interstate migrants constitute a small percentage of the total migrants in India. Going by the Census 2001 data, interstate migrants formed only 13% of the total migrants in the country, the figure being 25% for urban migrants. If one uses this percentage, the number of interstate migrants would be around 18.5 million in 2011, averaging less than 2 million a year. The NSS for the year 2007-08 shows that the interstate migrants are 11.5% of the total migrants, up from 10.3% in 1999-2000. NSS figure will, therefore, be lower than that of the Census.

The Economic Survey, based on an analysis of the age-cohort data, reports interstate migration to be five to six million per annum. Using the data of unreserved rail travel, this movement is estimated to be as high as nine million. The Survey identifies these as economic migrants. Railway traffic-based migration data has, however, been dismissed by researchers as being absurdly high. Further, a part of the increase in cohort-based analysis can be attributed to age reporting error in the Census. The migration picture would become clear only when clarifications are provided or more disaggregated tables are published by the Census authorities.

Amitabh Kundu is distinguished fellow at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries, former professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and has served as a member of National Statistical Commission

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 17, 2018 13:17 IST