Rural-urban migration in Bihar

  • Migration in Bihar is common, both within the state and from the state to other parts of the country. However, there has been limited understanding of the forms that migration is taking.
  • This study found that the vast majority of migration in Bihar is cyclical labour migration by vulnerable groups.
  • Labour migrants’ mobility is hindered by their access to social entitlements, which are tied to a person’s place of registration and are not portable.
  • To enhance the welfare benefits of labour migration, migrants should be able to access their social and political rights anywhere in the country.

The purpose of this project was to investigate the patterns of migration in Bihar. The project’s theoretical framework was informed by recent debates on the theme of ‘transition’. Most scholars have been united in their assumption that a ‘transition’ from the rural to the urban is inevitable. Over the last decade, Bihar has experienced rapid economic growth and increasing urbanisation.

We found that migrants from Bihar are taking up less agricultural work than in the past, and are increasingly moving to work in construction instead. The overwhelming majority of migration in Bihar is labour migration. Men migrate for 2-3 months to work, before returning home for 3-4 months. This suggests that urbanisation is not inevitable.

Because the majority of migration in Bihar is cyclical, migrants are often unable to access their social entitlements when they are working away from home. This is because social entitlements are currently based on a sedentary model, and can only be claimed in the jurisdiction in which an individual is registered. The government should therefore consider making social and political rights portable. People should be allowed to access their social entitlements, such as PDS grain, from anywhere in the country. Furthermore, Indians should be allowed to vote from wherever they are.

Outputs