Distress zones

Published : Sep 21, 2012 00:00 IST

THE story of 19-year-old Moti Rajwar proves a stark example of the plight of the Indian migrant worker. Over the past five years, this young man belonging to a Mahadalit community has travelled from Bihars Khagariya district to the factories of Chennai and Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu and gone back to the agricultural fields of north India. At present, he is a farmhand working in the districts of Meerut, Baghpat and Muzzaffarnagar in the relatively better off region of western Uttar Pradesh.

I have been working since the age of 14. There was no other choice for my family back home in Khagariya but to send me to work. I went south to Tamil Nadu and later came here because the pay is better in these places than what I would get in Bihar. Moreover, there is regular work in these parts. Now, my 16-year-old brother and many others from Bihar have joined me, Rajwar told Frontline.

However, what Rajwar and his relatives and friends from Bihar represent is only one part of the story of migration to Uttar Pradesh. For the migrant workers from Bihar, the eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh, which is geographically contiguous with Bihar, should have been the first stop. But none of them has stopped there for work, even during transit.

We go straight to Delhi, western Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, says Rajwar. Within Uttar Pradesh, the most attractive region is its western districts, which have higher socio-economic indices and are perceived to be more prosperous than other parts of the State. There is also a good demand for skilled and unskilled workers in this region.

Large segments of the population in the remaining parts of the State, particularly eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand, are themselves doing distress migration, pointed out Lenin Raghuvanshi, a Varanasi-based social activist who works among Dalits and migrant labourers.

Census and National Sample Survey (NSS) data and studies based on them underscore Raghuvanshis observation.

The State has figured consistently at the top in terms of net total out-migration. Census 2001 shows 2.6 million people had migrated from the State, a large majority of them in search of work. Again, like their Bihar counterparts, their migration is not focussed on geographically contiguous areas. A sizable percentage moved to Maharashtra, particularly Mumbai. NSS statistics also show that approximately 15 per cent of the households in Uttar Pradesh report remittances from migrant workers who are skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled.

According to Arvind Mohan, an economist associated with the University of Lucknow, migration from Uttar Pradesh is in many ways related to the larger socio-economic conditions that exist in different parts of the State. Agencies such as the Planning Commission have broadly divided the State into four parts, namely, eastern Uttar Pradesh, central Uttar Pradesh, western Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand. For example, eastern Uttar Pradesh, which accounts for a sizable chunk of the migration from the State by some informal estimates nearly 40 per cent ranks high in terms of population and poverty. Close to 70 per cent of the landholdings in this region are non-economic in size. Naturally, productivity is abysmally low in these parts and holds no comparison with the national average.

In Bundelkhand, the last eight years have been marked by drought and, consequently, starvation and rural debt. The plight of the farmers here and suicides by them have been well recorded. It is from these regions that one witnesses migration to several urban centres, including Delhi and Mumbai, Mohan pointed out.

In contrast, Mohan added, western Uttar Pradesh, which recorded more migration inwards than outwards, accounted for nearly 58 per cent of the total industrial investment in the State. The region has a flourishing agricultural sector. Naturally one does not see the migration situation that one witnesses in the eastern region and Bundelkhand, he said.

According to Ajit Kumar Singh, economist and director of the Giri Institute of Developmental Studies, the majority of the migrants from Uttar Pradesh are unskilled labourers. The migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh include a significant section of semi-skilled labourers and a sizable number of them find jobs abroad, particularly in West Asian countries. This cannot be termed as distress migration, he said.

Several social activists and academics addressing the issue of socio-economic empowerment pointed out to Frontline the correlation between well-thought-out socio-economic programmes and the decrease in distress migration. The Kanpur-based political analyst Anil Kumar Verma told Frontline that the information coming from several parts of Uttar Pradesh was that empowerment schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) had brought down distress migration.

This is particularly true in the case of rural migration among women as the scheme has ensured up to 100 days of employment near their places of residence. In this situation, the men venture out to faraway areas for work, while women go to nearby places and do MGNREGS work. Verma is also of the view that successive governments run by the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have initiated programmes for various backward Class and Dalit communities and these, too, have brought down migration in small but noticeable numbers. During the tenure of the BSP government, the distribution of land pattas among the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes was enhanced and the administration ensured that these communities got possession of and could cultivate land, he said.

Verma added that these assessments were made essentially on the basis of field reports and that there were no empirical data to substantiate them. However, he is of the view that the impact of such programmes need to be studied and evaluated in greater detail to quantify how far they have brought down distress migration. There is an important lesson in this for all practitioners in the social, political and economic fields, he opined.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan
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