Session 3: Rural Development

The first session on the second day focussed on rural development and migration. Clement Imbert (Oxford University) presented his work on short term migration and NREGA, a rural employment guarantee scheme, in India. One of the primary motivations behind this study is the phenomenon of the persistent urban-rural wage gap that exists. Figures from 2007-08 show that 8.14 million of the Indian population are short term migrants from rural areas who move to urban areas to work for short periods before returning back to their homes. Such short term migrants comprise a third of the urban population.

Clement Imbert uses data of short term migration flows in India from the national sample survey (NSS), and focuses on the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, to evaluate the impact of a national public works program on migration as well as to estimate the costs of migration. Descriptive statistics indicate that higher levels of short term migration occur during the summer and winter, 35% and 29% respectively, as compared to the monsoon season (10% migration) when there exists a higher level of agricultural work. On average, short term migrants travel 300km away to primarily urban destinations for a period of two months.

NREGA entitles every rural household 100 days of work per year with the majority of the work provided during the agricultural lean season, the peak migration season. The study exploits variation in the extent of public employment provision across the three states, with Rajasthan providing the most and Gujarat providing very little, to compare migration rates. There are high levels of demand for public works in the lean season among migrants with lower levels of migration exhibited in districts that provide more public works programs.

The study finds evidence of a significant impact of NREGA on migration: migration increased in districts that did not have public works provided, whereas those with public works provision saw a dampening in migration levels. The data shows that 30% of migrants would have accepted more work from the NREGA programme. Migrants who with no preference for more NREGA work were those that earned more from migration; a migration cost of is calculated at 60 rupees to explain such findings. Furthermore, the study finds an increase in wages in urban areas most exposed to a drop in migration inflows.

Indrajit Roy (Oxford University) presented a qualitative study on internal circular migration in Bihar with the objective of providing a more ‘realist’ interpretation of the migration process, in the face of the more common ‘optimistic’ (migration represents an efficient reallocation of resources) and ‘pessimistic’ (migration leads to a ‘brain drain’) arguments widely expressed.

Indrajit Roy emphasises the fact that migration experiences are very heterogeneous. His study uses survey questions and ethnography in two panchayats (wards). Survey findings indicate that 44% of respondents had family members who were migrants, over half of which were engaged in casual employment in urban areas.

Indrajit Roy focuses on the ethnographic portrait of one family, comprising three generations. He found that one of the primary reasons for migration in earlier generations was the lack of dignity experienced in work in the village: work in the village was available, however, social remuneration was very low where workers were dissatisfied with the lack employer-employee interaction. Wages were also cited as one of the motivations for migration, however, this does not appear to be the single most important cause.

Indrajit Roy also highlighted the changing dynamics between workers and employers in rural areas. In more recent periods, employers face a greater difficulty in obtaining workers, having to exert greater effort in convincing them to accept work in their fields; it is apparent that labourers are more aware of outside opportunities.

In terms of the impact of migration on gender dynamics, qualitative data from this study provides a mixed picture. On the one hand, migration means that women are given a greater role in the household and are able to engage in a broader range of tasks. Furthermore, several women expressed that migration gave them greater autonomy from drudgery where they no longer are required to work on farms, and are no longer exposed to taunting and leering. On the other hand, there are also consequences for female mobility where women are tasked with more household responsibilities.

Indrajit Roy argues that naïve optimism nor undue pessimism is an accurate interpretation of the effects of migration. He highlights the need for the enforcement of existing labour laws as well as the portability of worker rights where migrant workers should be able to carry their rights with them. He refers to a lack of social security schemes or a lack of knowledge of several schemes for migrant workers.

Mritunjoy Mohanty (IIM Kolkata) and Alakh Narayan Sharma (IHD) were invited to provide comments on both studies. Both discussants commended the work of both researchers, and the insights provided on the issue of migration. Mohanty expressed the importance of further capturing agrarian dynamics, highlighting that high levels of migration are not matched by high levels of trade and commercialisation. Sharma mentioned other important factors affecting the migration process, including land transfers to lower sections of society culminating in a lower propensity to migrate.

By Michelle Jacob, Hub Economist, IGC Hub