How to arrest rural-urban migration

India’s latest census and its 15th since 1872, states our country’s urban population has been surging at a higher pace as compared to the rural population. This development is being attributed to the rising migration from rural hinterland to urban centers, which in turn leads to further growth and expansion of cities and towns as well as addition of newer urban areas.

In India, people from villages migrate to cities for various reasons. These reasons can be economic, social or environmental. If people move to urban areas in a bid to earn their livelihood or boost their income or enhance their career opportunities, those reasons can be classified as economic. Similarly, if people migrate to escape the aftermath of natural calamities like famine, flood, earthquake, etc, such migration can be attributed to environmental reasons. Migration can also happen because of some other reasons or due to a range of push and pull factors. So, let us here discuss the causes for rural-urban migration in much more detail.

Specific causes for migration

To reiterate, migration from rural to urban areas occurs for several reasons. Growth of industries and their concentration in urban areas is one of the major causes of rural-urban migration. As a result of skewed up industrialization, people from the rural areas move towards industrialized centers in search of income and employment. This in turn results in unplanned and haphazard growth of cities and towns.

Another reason that contributes to migration is poverty. One yardstick for measuring of poverty can be income levels. Due to dearth of employment opportunities, a large number of villagers in India tend to be unemployed or underemployed. As such, they don’t have a source of steady income, which tends to make them relatively poor. Thus, poverty has become a chronic problem in rural areas because of which many villagers are unable to afford even the basic amenities of life. Such people migrate from villages to cities to escape poverty.

Even those who are financially better off may prefer to move to cities for other reasons such as in search of greater educational opportunities for their children, better healthcare facilities for their aged parents and higher standards of living and improved quality of life for themselves.

Then there is the ambitious and dynamic segment of the rural population, especially those who belong to the younger generation. They may relocate to cities solely because they aspire to boost their professional exposure and work experience. Their craving for a greater variety of opportunities, people, culture, art, food and entertainment can find fulfillment only in big cities. Hence, they also migrate seeking greener pastures for professional growth and exposure.

War, famine, earthquake as well as other natural calamities can also be reasons for rural-urban migration. Large sections of rural populations may migrate to urban centers to escape the sufferings inflicted by such natural calamities and in search of protection, food and medical aid during such periods of disasters and hardships.

Living in cities permits individuals and families to take advantage of the many opportunities of proximity, diversity and marketplace competition. This in turn, improves their quality of life as well as exposure to career advancement opportunities. Cities also offer them better access to a range of business and employment opportunities as compared to what were available to them in their villages. So, once they migrate from the rural hinterland to urban areas, majority of them prefer to permanently settle down at the new locations.

Problems created by migration

First and foremost, rural-urban migration has detrimental effects on the village economy. Some segments of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) may cease to exist over a period of time as there is no one left to run such businesses or work in local firms or demand products from such enterprises because a good number of people have migrated to cities. Secondly, the scope for setting up new business enterprises and making them successful also becomes bleak because of the same reasons.

Secondly, massive rural-urban migration can increase chances of spread of diseases from urban to rural areas. Because, when people who have migrated to big cities and are working there return to their home village to visit their families, relatives and friends, they may also carry infectious illnesses and diseases contracted by them in the cities. This can lead to spread of such diseases in rural areas.

Another major problem caused by migration is unwanted and unhealthy urbanization. In simple terms, urbanization can be defined as a process of concentration of population in a particular territory. Since most of the migrations that happen are the result of unplanned movement of people from rural areas to urban centers, they cause economic, social and environmental problems for the cities, and also for those residing in them.

Some other problems emanating from large-scale migration are unemployment and underemployment as well as shortage of basic amenities like water supply, sanitation, sewerage and electricity. Another challenge is a dearth of housing facilities, which in turn tends to create large slum populations in cities. For instance, Mumbai has almost 50% of its population living in slums, despite their per capita income being quite high. Similarly, Kolkata has 32% of its population living in slums. Overall, 15% of India’s urban population is estimated to be living in slums.

As cities develop, other adverse effects can include a dramatic increase in costs, often pricing the poor people out of the market. For example, escalating housing costs and rents may make it difficult for the lower income groups to get affordable accommodation close to their workplace. This may compel them to move away to far-flung places in search of affordable accommodation, which may hike their commuting time and commuting cost.

Furthermore, extensive urbanization or indiscriminate growth of cities can lead to many other adverse effects. Some of them are enumerated below:

(i) Disintegration of joint family: High cost of living is a major problem in all big cities. In megalopolises such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore, it becomes very difficult for lower income groups to maintain a decent standard of living. Even joint families can’t be maintained in cities on account of high cost of living. So people prefer to live in nuclear families.

(ii) Impersonal relationships: The concept of good-neighbourliness and community life is almost non-existent in urban centers. So, people often become self-centered and they show little concern for fellow human beings. Hence, urban life tends to become monotonous and get characterized by highly secondary relationships. This may have an adverse psychological impact on individuals.

(iii) Problem of pollution: In industrialized cities, pollution is a major problem. Air pollution may be caused by smoke-emitting industrial units or by excessive movement of vehicles. Similarly, water bodies in cities also tend to get polluted due to discharge of effluents by chemical factories, dyeing units, textile mills, etc.

(iv) Stress: Urban life is characterized by stress that can even strain family relationships. In cities, female members in the family are also compelled to take up jobs in a bid to meet the increased cost of living. Changing role of women tend to create stress in the family, which may result in strained relations or even lead to painful divorces.

(v) Increase in crime rates: Urban centers are known for higher crime rates. Theft, dacoity, murder, cheating, pick-pocketing and rapes become quite common in such places due to over-crowding, scarcity of resources, unemployment, poverty, stress, etc.

(vi) Environmental hazards: A major consequence of migration is the environmental problems caused, which may destroy the physical appearance of cities. Some portions of cities or their structural environment may get damaged due to over-crowding, as migrants encroach public places or they put up illegal houses or create unhealthy slums in and around the city because they have to shelter themselves and live within their limited incomes.

How to arrest rural-urban migration

Since, one of the major causes for the rising migration from rural to urban areas is lack of productive employment, creating earning opportunities by generating sufficient number of jobs and business opportunities in rural areas would be the best way to stop people from migrating. This can happen through promoting agriculture in various ways like creating awareness, printing agricultural literature and reaching them to farmers, distributing good quality seeds, constructing cold storages and warehouses and encouraging farmers to put in their best in a bid to improve yield and output and then encouraging farmers by felicitating them for their good performance.

Secondly, a good number of Indian villages are in a state of utter neglect and under-development with a large number of impoverished people as a result of past legacies and defects in our planning process and investment pattern. To correct this situation, every village in our country should be provided with basic amenities like clean drinking water, uninterrupted power supply, sound healthcare, quality educational institutes, good public transport, modern communication network and internet access as well as other facilities. These steps will open up ample avenues for gainful employment and steady source of income for villagers.

Lack of irrigation facilities and water scarcity are also major issues facing the countryside. As such, Indian agriculture is mostly dependent on monsoon rainfall. Unless there is an increased thrust on enhancing irrigation coverage across the country, the agriculture potential of India’s rural hinterland cannot be fully realized. Moreover, new social and engineering solutions are needed to deal with water scarcity. Simultaneously, new water reservoirs are also required to deal with floods and droughts.

To enhance income and livelihood security of the rural poor, our country should give a major impetus to various activities related to rural development. The government should ensure that the benefits of economic reforms percolate to all the villagers across the length and breadth of our country. To ensure that the corporate sector also pitches in and contributes to the cause of the rural poor, special incentives and tax rebates should be given to companies in a bid to motivate them to invest in promotion of agricultural and rural development related activities. Rural and agricultural development should also be made an important part of various corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

Currently, most jobs in rural areas are agriculture related or dependent on agriculture. They often tend to be seasonal and therefore unreliable. For the rural masses to overcome poverty, villages should be able to provide economic opportunities throughout the year. A large percentage of the rural populace should also be able to earn a decent living through non-agricultural occupations. Our government strategies and investments should be directed towards this goal.

Small scale industries that can be linked with agricultural operations spread over rural areas and smaller towns nearby may be the answer. Villagers should find it easy to make a decent living without migrating to big cities. The false lure of the cities as an attractive place for better living should be totally abolished by making village life economically attractive. For this to happen, our government should promote economic prospects and focus on infrastructure development in rural areas. It should also create ready markets for supporting agricultural and economic activities and also development of sustainable agricultural practices in the rural sector.

The Central and state governments should formulate appropriate policies and programs for the development of rural areas with the fundamental objective of ensuring their sustainable development by ensuring adequate working and living conditions and the preservation of natural and cultural heritage. Measures for the development of rural areas should encompass aid for investment into farms, processing of agricultural products, environmental protection measures in agricultural and forestry areas, land improvement measures as well as reconstruction and development of the countryside.

The Reserve Bank of India and the National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (Nabard), in close coordination with regional rural banks and district cooperative banks, should come up with short-term and long-term projects, programs and policies aimed at providing credit and micro-lending facilities to small and marginal farmers as well as to village artisans. This step will not only ensure that villagers have easy accessibility to finance, but it will also strengthen rural banking so that it can serve as the backbone of development in rural and remote areas on a sustainable basis.

Finally, any rural development program can be successful only if the unfettered population growth is curbed. Indian population is burgeoning at a feverish pace. Whatever little economic progress is made possible by the governments get eroded by the faster increase in number of mouths to feed. The scanty health services, the negligible primary education facilities and sparse housing are further strained, thereby keeping the poor always in poverty.

As such, India’s economic growth would be seriously hampered if the country’s population growth is not checked. The available resources are spread thin leaving the poor unhappy. The poor think children are a means to augment earnings, while the truth is that increase in population would never lift them out of poverty. Therefore, population control is the immediate imperative, with two-child norm and sterilization through incentives and gentle persuasion. Rural poverty and high fertility are closely linked. One cannot be solved without tackling the other.

As the potential in rural India is immense, the above corrective measures will boost the purchasing power of the rural population, thereby creating enormous demand for goods and services. When this happens, the possibility of reverse migration of people from the urban slums back to the villages will become a strong possibility.

Before concluding this article, it needs to be mentioned that the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY) recently announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an excellent program that can help in arresting rural-urban migration. The scheme encourages Members of Parliament from both Houses to identify and develop one village from their constituency as a model village by 2016, and two more by 2019, covering over 2,500 villages of the 600,000 villages country-wide.  

Since there are 800 parliamentarians in our country, around 2,500-odd villages can get covered within a span of three years. Similarly, if all Indian states initiate similar schemes with their MLAs, 6,000 to 7,000 villages could get covered. One good village can inspire the entire area because of which a positive viral effect could gradually begin.

97 thoughts on “How to arrest rural-urban migration

  1. Param Dutta

    This happens everywhere in the world but in India we have to accept that rural parts are just a place for politics and even the residents there do not want to develop, hence the younger generation makes a shift to urban parts.

  2. Shikhar Mehta

    It is not wrong if I say that urban parts are bearing the loads of rural parts.
    Almost 70% of our GDP comes from urban parts,
    but the other side of the coin is suppression of farmers and buying of their produce at throwaway prices.

  3. H C Agarwal

    If you can improve marketing of agriculture produce and provide farmers right price for their output,
    half of the worries will come to end.
    Leave rural-urban migration as this is a part of a developing economy.

  4. Bhushan Sharma

    You have been very precise in highlighting the gravity of the issue.
    One thing that I want to add to your suggestions is that governments
    should promote creativity from rural parts so that they are motivated to rise up.

  5. Alok Vashishtha

    Metros like Mumbai, Delhi, and Noida have sky-high rent prices. IT industry is mainly based in these areas. I suggest IT companies to set up atleast some call centers in villages to promote employment there.

  6. Raman gurumurthy

    One best way to stop this hefty migration is to provide state-backed quality education and setting up small ventures of business like manufacturing and BPO industry.
    Youth will then stay in rural parts.

  7. Divakar Pandit

    You cannot blame glamor and high life style of cities for this.
    Actually the foremost issue is basic needs like health and education.
    If they are improved I don’t think many people will think for changing their abodes to cities.

  8. Manish Gupta

    You should also mention that this increases crime rates in cities and is even responsible for youth moving towards terrorism.
    Rural parts are deprived of almost every basic necessity.
    This has to be stopped instantly.

  9. Illy Chakravarty

    In fact schemes like saansad gram yojana should be on priority of new government which promises quality life to all.
    Rural India is the heart of the nation and more the half of population lives here.
    This is most crucial part of development.

  10. Gurmeet Kaur

    Without electricity and adequate health facilities,
    what was the prior government trying to do with schemes like job guarantee for specific hours?
    This has even killed talent and hard work.
    MGNREGA and NREGA are to be rethought and reworked.

  11. Ganesh Murthy

    People in urban parts were also once a part of rural India hence you cannot say that villagers migrating to cities are a burden.
    Resources belong to the whole society, it is the government and its policies which are at fault.

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