India’s Urban Transition: Identifying the Contours of Migration

Authored by: Jitendra Bisht
This is the second in SPRF’s series of issue briefs on India’s urban transition. Taking up the process of migration, one of the most important determinants of urbanisation, this brief attempts to understand the prominent trends in the movement of people across India over the last two decades, particularly into cities. It looks at how migrants are defined by census authorities, the issues city-bound migrants face, and identifies the absence of seasonal migrants from available data as a key issue in the framing of development policies focused on employment and urban development.
Migration, the temporary or permanent movement of people from one place to another, has been a recurring feature in the growth of human civilisation across millennia. It is also one of the key factors that has a bearing on urbanisation. In fact, rural to urban migration is sometimes considered synonymous with the process of urbanisation (McGranahan & Satterthwaite 2014: 4). India, witness to some of the world’s largest incidents of voluntary and involuntary migration throughout
its history, is a unique case study in this context. Unlike the old view of India being a land of thousands of self-sufficient villages with low spatial mobility, most famously posited by Kingsley Davis (1951), available data shows that Indians are highly mobile (Tumbe 2018: 2). In fact, as per the 2011 Census, one in three Indians is a migrant. The share of migrants in India’s population has increased substantially over the last three decades, as captured in the respective censuses (27.6% in 1991, 30.5% in 2001, and 37.6% in 2011) coinciding with the rapid urbanisation the country has witnessed during that time frame. As per the Census 2011 numbers, 34.8% of total migrants could be classified as migrating into urban areas, thus being a key driving force behind urbanisation. Hence, understanding how Indians move across the country’s vast geography is crucial to make sense of the process of urbanisation and its various challenges. Additionally, analysing trends in migration is essential to inform urban planning and government policies that are aimed at addressing issues of urban India.
– Who is a Migrant?
There are two principal ways in which data on migration is collected by the Indian government – Census and NSSO surveys. The most recent NSSO data comes from the agency’s 64th round survey conducted in 2007-08 which is on the status of employment in the country. As per the NSSO methodology, anyone who is enumerated at a place different from their usual place of residence (UPR)1 is considered a migrant.

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