Internal migration in India

What is migration?

  • Migration is defined as the movement of people from one place to another across the political boundaries- national (internal) or international. It is an integral part and an important factor in redistributing the population over time and space.
  • Migrants who move within the boundaries of their own country are known as internal migrants.
  • There are four streams of Internal migration:
  1. Rural to urban (R-U)
  2. Rural to Rural (R-R)
  3. Urban to Rural (U-R)
  4. Urban to Urban (U-U)


Important terms

  • Migrations start at an origin and completed at an area of destination.
  • A number of migrants sharing a common origin and destination form a migration stream. For every stream there is a reverse counter-stream.
  • Migrants in between origin and destination are known as enroute..
  • Return Migration: When groups of people move back to where they came from
  • Seasonal Migration: When people move with each season (e.g., farm workers following crop harvests or working in cities off-season).

Trend and pattern of Internal Migration in India:

  1. The Economic Survey of India 2017 estimates that the magnitude of inter-state migration in India was close to 9 million annually between 2011 and 2016
  2. The 2001 census estimated the total number of internal migrants at 314 million based on place of last residence, representing nearly 30% of the total population. According to 2011 Census, the number of internal migrants were rose to 453.6 million.
  3. The decadal growth in migration has gone up from 35.5% during 1991-2001to 44.2% during 2001-11.
  4. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are the biggest source states (states from which people migrate), followed closely by Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal
  5. The major destination states (states to where people migrate) are Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

Reasons for Migration

  • Marriage was cited as the pre-dominant reason for migration among females.
  • Among males the most important reason for migration was ‘Work/ Employment’

Streams of Migration

In case of intra-state migrants, majority of the migration is from one rural area to another, due to marriage in case of females and in search of work in case of males. For inter-state migrants, however, the flow is mainly towards urban areas.

Note: Results from the 2011 Census are yet to be released providing data on this migration stream

Causes of Internal Migration:

  1. Urbanization: Rural-urban migration is a major characteristic of urban transition in countries. The rates of urbanization influence rural-urban wage differences. An increase in the demand for labour in urban areas and better wages increase migration. The pull factors of better job facilities, good salary, and more income, medical and educational facilities are attracting the rural people to move to the cities. The push factors of no job facilities, low salary, less income, drought, less medical and education compel people towards cities.
  2. Marriage: marriage is an important social factor for migration. As observed by Census 2001, in case of intra-state migrants majority of the migration is from one rural area to another, due to marriage in case of females.
  3. Employment:
  • The prime reason for migration from rural to urban areas and urban to urban areas is search of better employment in industries, trade, transport and services.
  • People seasonally migrate for employment in different areas and different industries. For Example, significant numbers of people from drought-prone regions—e.g. from areas of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra—migrate seasonally to work in brickmaking, construction, tile factories, and agricultural work. Such migration is of both rural-rural and rural-urban streams.
  • Circular migrants are also attracted by agricultural work, such as the rice harvest season in West Bengal and the sugar cane harvest in Gujarat.
  1. Education:Due to lack of educational facilities in rural areas, people migrate to the urban areas for better academic opportunities. In 2011 census, about 1.77% people migrated for education.
  2. Lack of security:Political disturbances and interethnic conflicts is another reason for internal migration.
  3. Environmental and disaster induced factors:
  • There are migrants who are forced to move from rural to urban areas as a result of an environmental disaster that might have destroyed their homes and farms.
  • People are also forced to migrate from their traditional habitats due to gradual deterioration of changing environmental conditions
  • There can also be forced displacement due to reasons such as developmental projects. According to a Lok Sabha Report, 2013 around 50 million people have been displaced to the name of development projects over 50 years in India

Impact of Internal Migration:

Opportunities and benefits:

  • Labour Demand and Supply – Internal migration fills gaps in demand for and supply of labour; and efficiently allocates skilled and unskilled labour; cheap labour
  • Remittances – It provides remittances to households in the areas of origin; increases consumer expenditure and investment in health, education and assets formation
  • Return Migration – When a migrant return to its place of origin, he/she brings knowledge, skills and innovation (these are known as social remittances)
  • Skill Development – Migration is an informal process of skill development. It enhances knowledge and skills of migrants through exposure and interaction with the outside world.
  • Culture: Migration leads to intermixing of people from different cultures which brings up a composite culture among the people.

Impact on source areas:

  • Migration changes the characteristics of the population in regions of out migration-the proportion of old, children and females increases due to out- migration in source region.
  • Remittances play an important role in bringing financial resources to the migrant households and to the source areas
  • Rural out‐migration may cause a tightening of the labour market in some circumstances. For example: rural out migration has led to dearth of agricultural workers in many areas.
  • Feminization of agriculture: According to the Economic Survey 2017-18, with growing rural to urban migration by men, there has been ‘feminisation’ of agriculture sector; there has been an increase in participation of women as cultivators, labourers and entrepreneurs

Impact on Destination Areas:

  • Migrant labour provides comparatively cheap and pliable labour to the rural and urban sectors in the destination areas. For example: In Gujarat, employer strategies encourage migration to substitute surplus local labour for better labour control.
  • Large scale movement of people from rural to urban areas causes overcrowding in cities and puts heavy pressure on urban infrastructure. Improper urban planning coupled with large influx of poor migrants lead to development slums lacking basic infrastructural facilities such as safe drinking water, electricity, sewage, housing, security, hospital etc.
  • In-migration also leads to demographic changes with large young male population dominating the age-sex composition.

Impact on Migrants (challenges faced by migrant workers):

  • Employment in informal economy: Migrants dominate the urban informal economy which is marked by high poverty and vulnerabilities.In an unorganized and chaotic labour market, migrant workers regularly face conflicts and disputes at worksites. The common issues they face are non-payment of wages, physical abuse, accidents and even death at work.
  • Issue of Identification documents: Proving their identity is one of the core issues faced by poor migrant labourers at destination areas. The basic problem of establishing identity results in a loss of access to entitlements and social services, such as subsidized food, fuel, health services, or education that are meant for the economically vulnerable sections of the population.
  • Housing: Lack of affordable housing in Indian cities force migrants to live in slums. Many seasonal migrants are not even able to afford rents in slums force them to live at their workplaces (such as construction sites and hotel dining rooms), shop pavements, or in open areas in the city
  • Financial Access:Migrant workers have limited access to formal financial services and remain unbanked
  • Access to healthcare:Migrant workershave poor access to health services, which results in very poor occupational health.
  • Education of children:  UNESCO’s 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report) shows that children left behind by migrating parents and seasonal migrants face fewer educational opportunities overall.According to the report, 80% of migrant children across seven Indian cities did not have access to education near worksites. Among youth aged 15 to 19 who have grown up in a rural household with a seasonal migrant, 28% were identified as illiterate or had an incomplete primary education.
  • Social exclusion:There isagrowing hostility of urban governments, as well as middle-class citizens, towards the urban poor, especially migrants to the cities.
  • Political exclusion:Migrant workers are deprived of many opportunities to exercise their political rights. A 2011 study pointed out that 22% of seasonal migrant workers in India did not possess voter IDs or have their names in the voter list.

Steps taken:

Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act of 1979: It seeks to address the unjust working conditions of migrant workers, including the necessity of gaining employment through middlemen contractors or agents who promise a monthly settlement of wages but do not pay when the times comes.

Enhancing livelihood opportunities for rural population: The government from time-to-time has taken various initiatives to combat farmers’ distress and enhance livelihood opportunities in rural areas. Examples: Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM),Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Attracting and Retaining of Youth in Agriculture (ARYA).

Infrastructure development in rural areas:

  • RURBAN Mission: It seeks to stimulate local economic development, enhance basic services, and create well planned Rurban clusters (cluster villages). One of the main objective is to reduce the rural-urban divide-viz: economic, technological and those related to facilities and service
  • PURA (Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas): It seeksto tackle the problem of migration of people from rural to urban areas for employment. It seeks to develop technology in villages, provide better connectivity, enhance livelihood opportunities etc.
  • SMART VILLAGES: Itis a concept adopted by national, state and local governments in India, as an initiative focused on holistic rural development.The Eco Needs Foundation has initiated the concept of “Smart Village”. Under this project the Foundation is adopting villages and putting efforts for sustainable development by providing basic amenities like sanitation, safe drinking water, internal road, tree plantation, water conservation


Draft Policy Framework for Improving the Conditions of Labour Migrants from Bihar:
The policy seeks to involve all stakeholders, including the source and destination governments, as well as workers’ organisations, to understand and collectively respond to the issues and challenges of labour migrants and their families.


Way Ahead:

  1. There is an urgent need to develop a coherent legal and policy framework on migration. Policy can have two dimensions: (i)reducing distress-induced migration and (ii) address conditions of work, terms of employment and access to basic necessities.
  2. Development strategies in backward rural areas should be strengthened to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities, food security programmes and creating opportunities for access to credit. Further, focus should be given on improving rural infrastructure- health, education and connectivity.
  3. A concerted national strategy that ensures access to entitlements and basic work conditions is necessary to address the plight of migrant workers. Internal migrants should be able to access legal aid and counselling to protect them from work and wage-related malpractice, and to ensure they have access to grievance handling and dispute resolution mechanisms.
  4. There is an urgent need to ensure that internal migrants are issued with a universally recognised and portable proof of identity that can form the basis on which to claim other socio-economic entitlements anywhere in the country.
  5. Overall processes of governance need to be democratized in order to include internal migrants in decision making processes and planning
  6. Education provisions should be sufficiently flexible to ensure that mobile populations are not left out.
  7. Initiatives should be taken to foster social inclusion of migrants and reduce discrimination.
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