Migrant workers in the Indian context, Should we still promote urbanization or opt for de-urbanization

Recent article published by affiliates of Aajeevika Bureau, a non-profit. in the Business Standard. seems to point out the issues at the surface (Migration) but fails to tackle the real issues and causes (Urbanization). Furthermore it believes that it is trying to solve a problem but in reality it is contributing to a bigger and longer (in time) problem that India currently faces.

Circular migrant workers remain at their work destinations for anywhere between 3 and 11 months a year, but do not settle there. They keep on continuous move, between their village and one or more work destinations. “The village is my vatan [home],” said Mukheshbhai, a Rajasthani construction worker living in the open in Chandlodiya. “We only come to the city to earn.”


The above mentioned article is right in pointing out the situation of circular migrant workers. The article fails to dig deep into the cause and repercussions of such migrations let me clarify:

  1. Typically majority of these workers are from an agricultural background and do not want to leave this profession at all.
    • Either because they have a land ownership
    • Or they have an older generation of family that cant migrate with them
    • Or agriculture still contributes a major part of their family income
  2. The young in the family migrate in search of additional family income in lean periods of agriculture only (non sowing and harvesting period)
  3. This migration increases the competition for domiciled labor in the work destination both in terms of job availability and wage quantum
    • This in turn results in exploitation of migrant worker
    • Increases wage expectations of domiciled labor (as they provide a stable human resource availability)
    • Decreases stable job opportunities overall
    • Increases labor related risks and costs for businesses in general (as human resource availability is unstable)

Nation-wide, such workers number 80 million and account for 15-20% of the workforce, according to a 2007 report prepared by the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector. Other scholars of migration, place the number at over 100 million.


Due to unsystematic and unequal development of various state economies without a national vision and objective; this migration has become an epidemic in our society and is not just restricted to only one economical or professional class. Indeed this a fair system for a market led capital based economy but, we should learn from developed and other larger and similar geographically spread countries.

But without domicile status or formal documentation in the city, they cannot access urban public schemes either.


Since, these migrant workers have a domicile usually in a rural area they have access to rural public schemes and they should be entitled to those. But is it fair for domiciled urban worker if the migrant rural worker has access to both the rural and urban public schemes. And, is it fair for the entire society to get the burden of providing both type of public scheme benefits to one person.

Severely compromised access to public provisioning also faces workers living on their worksites, either to save on rent or because they travel as families, and as a result, cannot afford City’s expensive rental markets. On average, the dhaba’s staff consumes only 37 litres of water per day, 63% lower than the 100 litre minimum needed to live a hygienic life, recommended by the National Commission on Urbanisation (1988) and 73% lower than the 135 litre minimum recommended by the Bureau of Indian Standards for “economically weaker sections”. “If we wake up a little late after there is daylight, and go to defecate in the open, the railway authorities pelt us with stones or beat us with big sticks,” said Sumanben, a migrant Adivasi woman who lives on public land near a railway track. “Sometimes there is a watchman at night. If he is there then we cannot defecate that day.”


This in turn also burdens the urban area in two ways

  1. Increases the potential for more number of slum areas
  2. Increases the potential for more health and hygiene related deaths among the migrant workers

It is thus important to curtail urbanization and the solution is definitely cannot be found in the wages act.