Monday, December 20, 2010

A hypothesis about migrants in Mumbai

The issue of migrants in general and those from the north in Mumbai specifically has been a burning one for many years. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the Shiv Sena have been at the forefront of attacking North Indian migrants who engage in different occupations in Mumbai.
Most of the north Indian migrants engage themselves in providing a host of services;from plying rickshaws and taxis to selling groceries,etc. Most of the security guards in the private sector are also from the northern states.
I like chatting up with these people whenever I get the opportunity to do so. The usual belief is that rural to urban migration happens due to non-availability of jobs in rural areas, stagnant agriculture due to a host of reasons, etc. However the people that I have spoken to come from districts that have abundant water supply and they also owned large tracts of arable land. So these guys who ply autorickshaws and sell groceries are not really deprived of water and land in their hometowns. In other words, it is not "distress migration"
The problem I believe is that agriculture is not seen as lucrative occupation. It is also not, I conjecture, seen as a "good enough" occupation.Its also not just about livelihoods. Lack of access to good quality education can also lead to people who are earning a decent income uproot their families and base themselves in urban ghettos.
If this is indeed the case, then we need to get the manufacturing sector on a high growth path. Jobs in cities are in the service sector and this sector cannot absorb the surplus labour currently in agriculture. Factories and consequent jobs on the shop floor are needed immediately.
If not, we will see overburdened cities crumbling against rising number of migrants.

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