The nationwide lock-down to prevent the spread of Covid-19 has led to an unexpected fallout – mass exodus of people from urban centers to their home town. The gravity of the situation this time is greater as the movement may lead to entry of the deadly virus into the rural community. While it is common knowledge that most of these people come to cities in search of jobs, exactly how significant is the number. Here is a brief look.

Migration refers to movement of people from their place of birth/place of last residence to another place within the nation. As per the Census of 2011, India had as many as 45.6 crores migrants, close to 37% of its population. The figure stood at 31.5 crores in 2001, implying annual increase of 4.6%, much higher than population growth. However, the figure actually over-states the intensity of the challenge as over 30 crores of total migrants are females and nearly three-fourth have migrated after marriage. There is a degree of inevitability attached to it and can’t be stopped even if all regions attain sufficient prosperity. So, it would be better to focus on migration characteristics of male population who largely move for economic reasons. (Figures below relate to male migration unless stated otherwise).

Migration can be at three levels – within the same district, outside the district but within the state and outside the state. Of the total 14.5 crores migrants, only 16% or 2.4 crores migrated to areas outside their states. Migration within the district forms the largest proportion at 8.3 crores or 58% of migrants. Within the overall context of balancing economic needs with minimal social displacement, the first two migration should be acceptable.

Migration is also classified based on the direction of flow – rural to rural, rural to urban, urban to urban and even urban to rural. While rural to rural and urban to rural migration do not pose much of a stress, the other two put pressure on city infrastructure and affect the quality of life. Of the total migrants, while 8.1 crores migrated to urban area, 6.5 crores migrated to rural areas also, mostly from other rural areas. This is contrary to perception that only cities attract migrants. The significance of the number is that in the absence of opportunities in rural areas, these people could have added to the number of people moving to cities putting even greater pressure on urban centers. Only half of the migrants in urban area are from rural are with the other half coming from other urban areas.

A positive development between 2001-2011 is the decline in share of people migrating for economic reasons (in search of job). While 28% of migrants in 2001 moved for economic reason, the share declined to 24% in 2011. The decline is even greater in case of rural to urban movement from 37% to 31%. Yet, the data needs greater scrutiny as 34% are classified as “Others” and 20% as “moved with households” where ultimate objective could be economic. Another positive trend within this is increase in share of female migrants although marginally, from 1.7% to 2.1%.

The statistics on migration is also divided on the basis of period of migration which helps understand the possibility of reverse migration.  Of 2.4 crores males who have migrated to other states, 1.04 crores have migrated within last ten years who are more likely to come back to their home town given an opportunity. (Based on the growth rate recorded between 2001-2011, this could have risen to nearly 1.5 crores). It is this population which would have possibly responded to the lockdown in the manner as seen over last few days.

In terms of state, maximum migration has occurred within Maharashtra at 2.4 crores, almost half of the male population. However, most of it is from within the state and inflow from outside the state is only 49 lakhs (2011 figures). UP and Karnataka accounts for the largest migrants at 17.6 lakh and 5.9 lakhs. Surprisingly, inflow from Bihar is quite low at only 3.9 lakh. Other states with high migrants are Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu at 1.5 crores and 1.3 crores (mostly Intra-state). In case of Delhi, the other centre which witnessed huge exodus after the lockdown, migrants’ inflow stood at 37.5 lakhs (including females, 72 lakhs). Within this, UP and Bihar accounted for maximum inflow at 15.1 lakh and 6.6 lakhs.

However, the figure does not reflect the gravity of the issue and a comparison would put this in proper perspective. Capacity of an unreserved train is close to 2,000 which may carry 4,000 at peak load. Carrying people from Mumbai to UP alone would require as many as 440 trains.

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