Indian migrants, across India 

#GS1 #SocialIssues 

The total number of internal migrants in India, as per the 2011 census, is 45.36 crore or 37% of the country’s population.  

  • This includes inter-state migrants as well as migrants within each state, while the recent exodus is largely due to the movement of inter-state migrants.
  • The annual net flows amount to about 1 per cent of the working age population. As per Census 2011, the size of the workforce was 48.2 crore people. 
  • This figure is estimated to have exceeded 50 crore in 2016 — the Economic Survey pegged the size of the migrant workforce at roughly 20 per cent or over 10 crore in 2016.

State to state, 2020 

  • While there is no official data for the inter-state migrants in the country, estimates for 2020 have been made by Professor Amitabh Kundu of Research and information System for Developing countries. 
  • His estimates, which are based on the 2011 Census, NSSO surveys and economic survey, show that there are a total of about 65 million inter-state migrants, and 33 per cent of these migrants are workers. 
  • By conservative estimates, 30 per cent of them are casual workers and another 30 per cent work on regular basis but in the informal sector.
  • If you add street vendors, another vulnerable community which is not captured by the worker data, that would mean that there are 12 to 18 million people who are residing in states other than that of their origin and have been placed at a risk of losing their income. 
  • A study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Azim Premji University in 2019 estimates that 29% of the population in India’s big cities is of daily wagers. This is the number of people which would be logically wanting to move back to their states.
  • Professor Kundu’s estimates show that Uttar Pradesh and Bihar account for the origin of 25 per cent and 14 per cent of the total inter-state migrants, followed by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, at 6 per cent and 5 per cent. 
  • This means that around 4-6 million people would be wanting to return to Uttar Pradesh, and 1.8-2.8 million to Bihar. Another 700,000 to 1 million would be wanting to return to Rajasthan and 600,000-900,000 to Madhya Pradesh.

What they earn, experience 

  • As per the ‘Politics and Society Between Elections Survey’ from 2017-19 conducted by the CSDS, the monthly household income of 22% daily and weekly wagers is up to Rs 2,000; of 32%, between Rs 2,000 and 5,000; of 25%, between 5,000 and 10,000; of 13%, between Rs 10,000 and 20,000; and of 8%, more than Rs 20,000. 
  • A CSDS survey during the recent Delhi Assembly elections also found that 20% of respondents reported their monthly household income to be less than Rs 10,000. 
  • Among migrants from Bihar and UP, this was even higher at 33% and 27%, respectively.


  • Professor Tariq Thachil of Vanderbilt University has worked on the circular migrant population in India. 
  • His research found that migrant populations neither wholly retain nor completely discard their village-based ethnic ties, which is witnessed by their willingness to walk hundreds of kilometres once their source of livelihood is taken away. 
  • His research, based on a large survey of 2,400 seasonal migrants sampled from 51 marketplaces across Lucknow, underscored the pre-eminence of the police in shaping the urban experiences of migrants, relative to their rural lives. 
  • Remarkably, 33% of respondents in the survey personally experienced violent police action within their past year in the city, while fewer than 5% had ever done so in their home villages.

Mostly in cities 

  • That the inter-state migrant crisis after the lockdown was felt more by cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Surat is borne by the 2011 Census data. 
  • Professor Chinmay Tumbe of IIM Ahmedabad has highlighted that Delhi has a migration rate of 43%, of whom 88% are from other states and 63% are from rural areas.
  • Mumbai has a migration rate of 55%, with 46% migrants from other states and 52% from rural areas. 
  • Surat, which witnessed police action on a group of migrants on Sunday, has a migration rate of 65%, with 50% migrants from other states and 76% from rural areas.
  • Professor Tumbe has also noted that the information about districts in originating states, from where these workers come and would have returned, is not current and is based on estimates from the 1990s. 
  • His paper, ‘Urbanisation, Demographic Transition and the Growth of Cities in India, 1870-2020’ has the data for source regions of migrants in major cities in 1990s, as the 2011 census data on it has not been released so far.
  • This data is important to identify the districts which should be on high alert for potential virus spread as these workers return to their homes. 
  • For example, Ganjam in coastal Odisha has a lot of people working in Gujarat and Professor Tumbe has noted that there have been instances recorded in the past which includes AIDS transmission via Surat. 
  • As Professor Siddharth Chandra’s work shows, the 1918 influenza virus was carried to rural India in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar by soldiers who fought in Europe in the First World War. 
  • They returned by ships to Bombay and Madras and then carried the virus to their villages, causing a disaster which saw 18 million deaths in India.

District to district 

  • District-wise migration data in the Economic Survey for 2016-17 show that the highest influx of migrants within the country is seen in city-districts such as Gurugram, Delhi and Mumbai along with Gautam Buddh Nagar (Uttar Pradesh); Indore, Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh); Bangalore (Karnataka); Thiruvallur, Chennai, Kancheepuram, Erode, Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). 
  • The districts showing the highest outward movement of migrant workers include Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Moradabad, Rampur, Kaushambi, Faizabad and 33 other districts in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Rudra Prayag, Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar, Almora, Champawat in Uttarakhand; Churu, Jhunjhunu, Pali in Rajasthan; Darbhanga, Gopalganj, Siwan, Saran, Sheikhpura, Bhojpur, Buxar, Jehanabad in Bihar; Dhanbad, Lohardaga, Gumla in Jharkhand; and Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg in Maharashtra. 
  • As per the Report of the Working Group on Migration, 2017 under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, 17 districts account for the top 25% of India’s total male out-migration. 
  • Ten of these districts are in UP, six in Bihar and one in Odisha (see map). 
  • “Relatively less developed states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have high net out-migration. Relatively more developed states take positive CMM values reflecting net immigration: Goa, Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. The largest recipient was the Delhi region, which accounted for more than half of migration in 2015-16, while Uttar Pradesh and Bihar taken together account for half of total out-migrants. Maharashtra, Goa and Tamil Nadu had major net in-migration, while Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh had major net out-migration,” the Economic Survey had stated.
  • The Report of the Working Group on Migration shows that the share of migrant workers is the highest in construction sector for females (67 per cent in urban areas, 73 per cent in rural areas), while highest number of male migrant workers are employed in public services (transport, postal, public administration services) and modern services (financial intermediation, real estate, renting, education, health) at 16 per cent each and 40 per cent each in rural and urban areas, respectively.

Economists comparing current crisis with Great Depression: What was it? 

#GS3 #International #GreatDepression 

With the novel coronaviruspandemic severely affecting the global economy, some experts have begun comparing the current crisis with the Great Depression — the devastating economic decline of the 1930s that went on to shape countless world events. 

  • Experts have warned that unemployment levels in some countries could reach those from the 1930s era, when the unemployment rate was as high as around 25 per cent in the United States.
  • Currently, unemployment levels in the US are already estimated to be at 13 per cent, highest since the Great Depression, according to a New York Times report.

What was the Great Depression? 

  • The Great Depression was a major economic crisis that began in the United States in 1929, and went to have a worldwide impact until 1939.
  • It began on October 24, 1929, a day that is referred to as “Black Thursday”, when a monumental crash occurred at the New York Stock Exchange as stock prices fell by 25 per cent.
  • While the Wall Street crash was triggered by minor events, the extent of the decline was due to more deep-rooted factors such as a fall in aggregate demand, misplaced monetary policies, and an unintended rise in inventory levels.
  • In the United States, prices and real output fell dramatically. Industrial production fell by 47 per cent, the wholesale price index by 33 per cent, and real GDP by 30 per cent.
  • The havoc caused in the US spread to other countries mainly due to the gold standard, which linked most of the world’s currencies by fixed exchange rates.
  • In almost every country of the world, there were massive job losses, deflation, and a drastic contraction in output.
  • Unemployment in the US increased from 3.2 per cent to 24.9 per cent between 1929 and 1933. 
  • In the UK, it rose from 7.2 per cent to 15.4 per cent between 1929 and 1932.The Depression caused extreme human suffering, and many political upheavals took place around the world.
  • In Europe, economic stagnation that the Depression caused is believed to be the principal reason behind the rise of fascism, and consequently the Second World War.
  • It had a profound impact on institutions and policymaking globally, and led to the gold standard being abandoned.

How did Great Depression impact India? 

  • The Depression had an important impact on India’s freedom struggle. 
  • Due to the global crisis, there was a drastic fall in agricultural prices, the mainstay of India’s economy, and a severe credit contraction occurred as colonial policymakers refused to devalue the rupee.
  • German economic historian Dietmar Rothermund writes in a 1980 paper at the Indian History Congress, “The decline of agricultural prices, which was aggravated by British financial policy in India, made substantial sections of the peasantry rise in protest and this protest was articulated by members of the National Congress.”
  • The effects of the Depression became visible around the harvest season in 1930, soon after Mahatma Gandhi had launched the Civil Disobedience movement in April the same year.
  • There were “No Rent” campaigns in many parts of the country, and radical Kisan Sabhas were started in Bihar and eastern UP.
  • Agrarian unrest provided a groundswell of support to the Congress, whose reach was yet to extend into rural India.
  • The endorsement by farming classes is believed to be among the reasons that enabled the party to achieve its landslide victory in the 1936-37 provincial elections held under the Government of India Act, 1935– which significantly increased the party’s political might for years to come.

A niggardliness that is economically unwarranted 

#GS2 #Governance 

The Centre can afford to step up its COVID-19 assistance to a higher scale; fiscal deficit is no worry 

  • The three-week long lockdown imposed on the country, it can be argued, was an over-reaction. More widespread testing of possible cases, “social distancing”, self-quarantining by the elderly, and selective lockdown of sensitive areas (as the Chinese government did in Wuhan) might have been quite adequate. 
  • But while this can be debated, what cannot be is the utter thoughtlessness that has accompanied the actual lockdown.
  • Ameliorative steps made necessary by it should have been announced simultaneously, to prevent the mass exodus of migrant workers which occurred not because of any “Fake-News”-induced panic, as the government claimed before the Supreme Court, but out of sheer desperation. 
  • Instead, some steps were announced by the Finance Minister a full 36 hours into the lockdown; and they were minuscule.

A comparison 

  • Indeed, India stands out among all the countries of the world as much for the scale of the draconian measure it has imposed as for the extent of unconcern it has displayed for the working poor affected by it. 
  • In the United States, for instance, where the lockdown has raised the number of persons filing unemployment claims from 2.8 lakh to 6.6 million in a matter of days, those affected can fall back on unemployment benefit; and the government has approved a package of ameliorative steps costing roughly 10% of that country’s GDP to cope with the crisis. 
  • In India by contrast, the Finance Minister’s package comes to less than 1% of its GDP; and much of it is just a repackaging of already existing schemes. 
  • New expenditure comes to just a little over half of the ₹1.7-lakh crore earmarked for the package. 
  • Besides, none of the steps will help the migrant workers; not even the larger food grain ration which in principle could, because most of them would have ration cards back home rather than in the places where they stay. But much has already been written on all this, and I need not repeat it here.

What can be done 

  • Many economists and civil society activists had suggested a cash transfer of ₹7,000 per month for a two-month period to the bottom 80% of households to tide over the crisis, in addition to enhanced rations of food grains and the inclusion of certain other essential commodities within the ration basket. 
  • The cost of their proposed cash transfers alone would come to ₹3.66-lakh crore, which is more than 10 times the cash transfers provided in the Finance Minister’s package. Providing assistance on the scale proposed by civil society organisations is necessary; it will no doubt pose logistical problems, but not financial problems. 
  • These implications can manifest themselves in two ways: one is through inflation, and the other by precipitating a balance of payments problem.

Food grains aplenty 

  • The supply of the most essential of goods, food grains, is plentiful. Currently there are 58 million tonnes of food grain stocks with the government, of which no more than about 21 million tonnes are required as buffer-cum-operational stocks. 
  • This leaves a surplus of 37 million tonnes which can be used for distribution as enhanced ration, or for providing a cushion against inflation. 
  • The rabi crop is supposed to be good; as long as it is safely harvested, this would further boost the government’s food stocks.

Issue of deficit 

  • True, if inflationary expectations are strong and persistent, then the prices of non-rationed commodities may rise sharply for speculative reasons; but the government can prevent such expectations, by adopting measures such as bringing down petro-product prices, taking advantage of the collapse of world oil prices. 
  • A larger fiscal deficit, therefore, need not cause disquiet on account of inflation.
  • We are currently in a bizarre situation where cross-border movement of people is virtually barred, while cross-border movement of finance is freely allowed. 
  • If the hardships of the people caused by the pandemic, and the lockdown it has created, are not ameliorated through larger government expenditure, because of the fear that the larger fiscal deficit required for it would frighten finance into fleeing, then the privileging of finance over people would have reached its acme. This must not be allowed. 
  • The Centre must not worry about its fiscal deficit; and since the State governments will bear a substantial expenditure burden on account of the pandemic, the Centre must make more resources available to them. 
  • It should raise their borrowing limits, perhaps double their current limits as a general rule, apart from negotiating the magnitude of fiscal transfers it should make towards them.

Enemy at the gates 

#GS2 #Governance 

Kerala-Karnataka border issue poses questions on restrictions, relations during a pandemic 

  • Kerala’s grievance over Karnataka sealing its border to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has brought under focus the extent and the possible limits, of restrictions that may be imposed by the government to deal with a public health emergency. 
  • After the Kerala High Court directed the Centre to ensure free vehicular movement for those requiring urgent medical treatment on the national highway that connects Kasaragod in Kerala to Mangaluru in Karnataka, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre to confer with the States and formulate the norms for creating a passage at Talapadi, the border. 
  • An amicable solution is possibly round the corner, as there are reports of Kasaragod district suffering due to the highway closure. Many here depend on medical facilities in Mangaluru for emergencies, while others rely on inter-State movement for essential medicines to reach them.
  • Karnataka’s objection is based on the fact that Kasaragod has Kerala’s largest number of positive cases. It has a reasonable apprehension that allowing vehicles might result in the disease spreading to its territory. 
  • However, it is clear that those who may travel across the border for urgent medical needs are patients other than those who are pandemic victims. 
  • A key question that has arisen is whether legal measures taken by the State to prevent the further spread of an epidemic can extend to a point where there is no exception even for medical needs. 
  • The Kerala High Court took the view that denying emergency medical aid amounts to a violation of the right to life and liberty, and addressed jurisdictional objections from Karnataka by observing that its direction was to the Centre, as what was under closure was a national highway. 
  • The Kerala High Court took the view that denying emergency medical aid amounts to a violation of the right to life and liberty, and addressed jurisdictional objections from Karnataka by observing that its direction was to the Centre, as what was under closure was a national highway. 
  • Late last month, the Kerala Governor promulgated the ‘Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020’ to arm itself with extraordinary powers to deal with the pandemic. 
  • One of its clauses says the State can seal its borders for such period as necessary, while another empowers it to restrict the duration of essential or emergency services, including health, food supply and fuel. 
  • Interestingly, inter-State migration and quarantine are under the Union List, while the prevention of infectious diseases moving from one State to another is under the Concurrent List. 
  • This can only mean that while States have the power to impose border restrictions, the responsibility to prevent a breakdown of inter-State relations over such disputes is on the Centre.

Reducing farm distress during a pandemic 

#GS2 #Governance 

The government has an opportunity to help farmers who are battling declining demand and lower prices 

  • As India lacks the resources to significantly ramp up testing, imposing a lockdown was the government’s preferred option. 
  • Although there is limited evidence to suggest that this strategy may be working in containing the spread of the virus, its after-effects on thousands of migrant workers is already out in the open.

Impact on agricultural income 

  • Migrants are not the only ones who are facing the after-effects of the lockdown. With the economy coming to a complete halt in most of the informal and formal enterprises in urban areas, the lockdown is also likely to affect the large population in rural areas, a majority of whom are dependent on agriculture. 
  • At a time when the rural economy was witnessing declining incomes, both for casual workers and self-employed workers, even before the pandemic broke out, this lockdown is only going to hurt the agricultural economy further. 
  • Even before the lockdown, rural wages were declining in real terms but there were hopes for agricultural incomes rising with food prices rising until January 2020.
  • This is likely to hurt those engaged in the production of fruits and vegetables, which are perishable goods and cannot be stored. 
  • With horticultural production exceeding foodgrain production in the last decade, many farmers are likely to face uncertain or no markets for their produce. Most of these are labour-intensive crops and the absence of working labourers during the harvest and post-harvest season is likely to affect the prospect of higher incomes in agriculture. 
  • The food price index of the Food and Agricultural Organization, which was showing a rising trend in food prices until January 2020, reported a 1% decline in prices month-on-month in February 2020. 
  • At a time when the agricultural sector was already battling declining demand and lower prices, the faint hope of better prices appears unlikely to materialise. 
  • It is the decline in prices which is likely to hurt the income of farmers in the long run more than the short-run supply disruptions and labour shortages.

What the government can do 

  • While it is clear that agriculture will be affected due to short-term disruptions and the long-term economic impact of the pandemic, there is an opportunity for the government to help farmers through state support. 
  • Political expediency and fiscal concerns led the government to stock up foodgrains, with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) reporting 77 million tonnes of cereals in stocks as against the buffer requirement of 21 million tonnes as on April 1. 
  • However, with the lockdown forcing a humanitarian crisis and with most migrants heading back to the rural areas, it is also time for the government to release the food stocks through the public distribution system. 
  • The Central government has already announced that for the next three months, 5 kg of free grains will be distributed in addition to what people are entitled to under the National Food Security Act, but this has not yet reached the State governments due to the lockdown. 
  • One way of ensuring this is to reduce the input costs through existing schemes of subsidies such as the fertilizer subsidy and through price reduction in petrol/diesel meant for agricultural purposes. 
  • But for the immediate short-term, farmers need to be compensated for the loss of income and the best way to do it is through the PM-KISAN scheme. 
  • It is necessary not just for the survival of the agricultural sector but also for the overall economy which is expected to see a sharp slowdown and decline in demand. 
  • While income transfers may not be the best way of supporting the agricultural sector at times like these, they are the best available instruments to raise rural incomes and create demand.
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