The United Nations’ International Migrants Day is observed on December 18 to recognise the efforts, contributions and rights of migrants worldwide. In 2013, the number of international migrants in the world reached 232 million, up from 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990. Migration is now more widely distributed across the countries and one of every ten migrants is under the age of 15.
Rapid urbanisation, concentration of population in large cities, sprawl of cities into wider geographical areas and rapid growth of megacities are among the most significant transformations of human settlements. In the coming years, urban and rural population will be increasingly interdependent for their economic, environmental and social wellbeing. Among the economic and social factors influencing this process are population growth and voluntary and involuntary migration, real and perceived employment opportunities, cultural expectations, changing consumption and production patterns and serious imbalances and disparities among regions.
Migration in India is not new. Historical accounts show people have moved in search of work, in response to environmental shocks and stresses. Improved communications, transport networks, conflicts over natural resources and new economic opportunities have created unprecedented levels of mobility.
All three sectors of the Indian economy, agriculture, industry and services employ very large numbers of migrant workers. The major subsectors using migrant labour are textiles, construction, stone quarries and mines, brick kilns, small-scale industry (diamond cutting, leather accessories, etc), crop transplanting and harvesting, plantations, rickshaw pulling, food processing including fish and prawn processing, domestic work, security services, small hotels and roadside restaurants and teashops and street vending.
Some of the sectors are strongly associated with specific migration streams as migration from western Odisha for brick kiln work in Andhra Pradesh and migration from Bihar for agricultural work in Punjab. Western Odisha has long been a major source area for migrants because of its highly unequal land distribution, high levels of poverty among landless and marginal farmers and low levels of human capital, industrialisation, urbanisation and diversification into nonfarm occupations. The region suffers from multiple social and economic disadvantages leaving the poor with few local options for making a living.
High-productivity agricultural areas continue to be important destinations, but rural-urban migration is the fastest growing type of migration as more migrants choose to work in the better paying nonfarm occupations in urban areas. Delhi, Gujarat and Maharashtra are top destinations for migrant labour.
One key factor of this migration is the lack of employment in rural areas, increasing exponentially the ever-growing challenges related to providing adequate basic infrastructure to a growing number of unplanned low-income urban settlements. The lack of reliable infrastructure assets in rural areas leading to lack of access to basic social services, markets and job opportunities, often force the rural population to migrate. Rural and urban development strategies can be explicitly made more pro-poor by optimising the employment impact of physical upgrading strategies in infrastructure and service delivery, providing social safety nets and other alternatives in the form of unemployment insurance, micro financing or job training.
Our Constitution (Article 19) gives the right to all citizens “to move freely throughout the territory of India; to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India”. India’s total population, as per the Census 2011, is 1.21 billion. Internal migrants in India constitute a large population as 309 million internal migrants or 30 per cent of the population (Census 2001), and by more recent estimates 326 million or 28.5 per cent of the population (NSSO 2007–2008). This far exceeds the estimates of Indian emigrants (11.4 million) (The World Bank 2011).
Migration in India is primarily of two types, as long-term migration resulting in relocation of an individual or household and seasonal migration involving back and forth movement between a source and destination. Most short-term migrants belong to socioeconomically deprived groups like Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes having negligible educational attainment, limited assets.
Migrants face denial of basic entitlements including access to subsidised food, housing, drinking water, sanitation and public health facilities, education and banking services and legal protection.
One noticeable issue in the society today is the rate at which people migrate from rural to urban areas. Like a paradox, while the urban areas are increasing in population, the rural areas are decreasing. The rural-urban migration has negative consequences. It leads to overpopulation of urban areas encouraging crimes and slows down the rate of development of rural areas. So, the Government of each country should strive to provide social amenities and jobs for rural citizens. Agro-allied industries must be set up in rural areas to provide jobs. Agricultural inputs and technologies should be introduced to rural people to improve the production level.
The global plan of action outlined in the Habitat Agenda emphasises the interdependence between urban and rural areas and the need to promote their balanced development. So, rural and urban areas should be connected by infrastructure, principally transport, electricity and telecommunication networks. Public policies and urban and regional plans can help support economic growth while protecting natural and agricultural land uses.
Sustainability of global environment and human life will not be achieved unless both urban and rural human settlements are made economically buoyant, socially vibrant and environmentally sound.
All these concerns and demands require a regional and cross-sectoral approach to human settlements planning, which places emphasis on rural/urban linkages and treats villages and cities as two ends of a human settlements continuum in a common ecosystem. Regional development planning creates a better urban-rural balance and reduces migration pressure on urban areas. It is important for planners and policymakers to develop strategies based on the realities of people’s lives in both rural and urban areas.