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The news of the new draft National Migrant Policy being framed by NITI Aayog is an extremely welcome development and the need for this policy is precipitated by the enormous suffering endured by the country’s Circular Migrants (those who migrate short term primarily to earn and remit money back home) during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in 2020.


GS-II: Social Justice (Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services, Issues relating to poverty, hunger and Unemployment, Government Policies and Interventions, Issues arising out of design and implementation of policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Migrants in India
  2. Causes of internal migration in India
  3. About the National Migrant Policy being framed by NITI Aayog

Migrants in India

  • The Census defines a migrant as a person residing in a place other than his/her place of birth (Place of Birth definition) or one who has changed his/ her usual place of residence to another place (change in usual place of residence or UPR definition).
  • The number of internal migrants in India was 450 million as per the most recent 2011 census.
  • Seasonal Migrants: Economic Survey of India 2017 estimates that there are 139 million seasonal or circular migrants in the country.
  • Migrant workers, who constitute about 50% of the urban population and many of whom are engaged in what are called “3D jobs” (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) are likely to face job and livelihood crisis owing to COVID-19 pandemic, according to findings of a research.
Percentage of Migrants to Population in various States of India

Causes of internal migration in India

  1. Unemployment in hinterland: An increasing number of people do not find sufficient economic opportunities in rural areas and move instead to towns and cities.
  2. Marriage: It is a common driver of internal migration in India, especially among women.
  3. Pull-factor from cities: Due to better employment opportunities, livelihood facilities etc., cities of Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata are the largest destinations for internal migrants in India.
What the rural to urban move says about migration

About the National Migrant Policy being framed by NITI Aayog

  • The draft copy of the National Migrant Policy being framed by NITI Aayog acknowledges that circular migrants are the backbone of our economy and contribute at least 10 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and yet, tens of millions are employed in precarious jobs in the informal sector without contracts or documents to prove their identity, and claim state support in the event of a crisis.
  • The draft policy is clear in highlighting the vulnerability of migrants to such crises and describes the experience of migrants during the lockdown as a “humanitarian and economic crisis”.
  • It seeks to take a rights-based approach and discusses the importance of collective action and unions to help migrants bargain for better conditions and remuneration.

Involvement of line agencies

  • The draft policy makes efforts to bring together different sectoral concerns related to migration, including social protection, housing, health and education. In doing so, it will lay the foundations for the ministries and line departments overseeing these sectors to work together in a more harmonious fashion, speaking the same language and operating on the same underlying assumptions.
  • The draft mentions the need for convergence across different line departments and proposes the establishment of a special unit at the Ministry of Labour and Employment which will work closely with other ministries.
  • All of these steps promise to create a policy environment that can better support migration and one that is based on sound data.
  • The draft policy also conveys a willingness within government to recognise that the numerous laws and legislation that are in existence have not succeeded in protecting migrants as intended and recommends better implementation.

Tribal migrants sans agency?

  • Tribal migration is constructed as a process whereby profiteering, “unfair” and immoral brokers or intermediaries are “luring”, or worse still, trafficking, unsuspecting tribals away from their villages.
  • There is a conceptually problematic fudging of trafficking and economic migration and also a lack of clarity on how the migrants themselves perceive these processes.
  • Domestic work, which is named as one of the occupations into which tribals are trafficked, has now become an important source of income for tens of thousands of women and adolescents from impoverished backgrounds in eastern Indian states working in the metropolises.
  • The draft policy lists a number of government programmes and also mentions their failure in checking migration from tribal areas.

Brokers: profiteers or facilitators?

  • While migrants and their families recognise that brokers exploit them and earn relatively large amounts from their migration, they also recognise that without them, they would be unable to access employment outside the village. Recruiters, whether from their own community or from outside, are key in helping migrants to negotiate the huge cultural and economic divide between their own worlds and the world of modern urban employment.
  • They may do so by paying them advances which bond them to the job for several months—in the worst cases this results in perpetuating dependency and indebtedness, whereas in others it can release them from more humiliating borrowing from traditional patrons.
  • The draft policy goes on to highlight other areas where migrants could be better supported including financial services, skills development, political inclusion and education, among others.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

February 2024