I have no problems with anyone coming and settling down in Mumbai, in that eternal search of a better life. That's any individual's natural tendency and best not to be curbed.
However, I have a serious problem with people leaving their homes in places as distant as Bihar or Uttar Pradesh not because they chose to come here but because they were forced out.
This 'forcing out' is called, in demography and economics, 'the push factor'.
That is a jargon which means that when Mumbai can 'pull' people because of the dreams it offers, dreams that are most often realised in one measure or another, an environment hostile to the very notion of mere survival pushes them out of their homes there.
Why they flee?
I have serious problems with such a situation. Because people don't find jobs there that can offer even the minimum sustenance, they leave what passes off as their home and hearth and arrive, near destitute but with hope in their dim eyes, in the big cities, not just Mumbai. They literally flee those tormented lives.
This would be so different if their own states were hospitable enough to their own populations. But tragically, they are not.
It is axiomatic that if you rule badly, if your norms of governance do not meet even the minimum basic requirements of the people, if social justice is denied in a caste-dominated society, along with economic deprivation, if jobs shrink or new ones are not available, then people would desert those rulers by looking to new pastures elsewhere.
Poor not at fault
By no stretch of imagination can the poor migrant be faulted. It is more the governments that have been singularly unsuccessful by being gross under-performers on the social and economic fronts and fuelling out-migrations. And efficient states have to bear the burden.
But has the influx of the people from those outback areas, which reduced the populations there by just that much, made any difference to those who stayed behind? Obviously not for the out-migration from those locations continues.
Here are some numbers. I am using the Mumbai context mainly because it is a subject that has hotted up in recent times although spots around Ludhiana in Punjab too have been having problems with regard to migrants.
In 2001, of the total population of 11,978,450 residents of Mumbai, 5,185,429 people were migrants who came in from 1991. That is they were born outside Mumbai or their last reported place of living was not Mumbai. Of them, 1,258,905 had come from Uttar Pradesh alone; 181,690 had moved in from Bihar. That is, of all the migrants, 24 per cent were from UP and 3.5 per cent from Bihar.
These are Census figures. In the decade previous to that, the strength of total migrants to the total population was 12 per cent in the case of those from UP and 0.5 per cent from Bihar. Again, Census 1991 figures, as authentic as they come. But here is a clarifier -- these are figures for Mumbai, not the peripheral and satellite towns like Navi Mumbai, Mira-Bhayander, Vasai-Virar, Ulhasnagar, Kalyan-Dombivli, Thane, etc, where their proportion could be higher or on par, but not less.
So what have we now? We have people like Nitish Kumar, Bihar's chief minister, saying that he -- Mr Nitish Kumar -- has gone to the extent of threatening to freeze fund flows in Mumbai over attacks on Biharis. This was reported in The Stateman, Kolkata, on November 2. That is pure blather, to say the least. Does Bihar have that kind of resources which keeps Mumbai alive?
If you have it, use it
But if Kumar can turn off the tap, it should help Bihar because those funds could be better deployed there for the benefit of the poor Biharis who make a beeline to Mumbai and other cities. In his piece on February 12, 2007, he said, 'a majority of the cases coming to the Janata Durbar (that he holds) are petitions of families begging to be included in the BPL list'. His assessment of the number of the desperately poor was more than the Centre's calculations.
Dr Suresh Nandan Sinha, a former Professor of MIT, Muzaffarpur, had listed the causes of the problems in Bihar in a seminar paper sometime ago: 'The causes of poverty in Bihar may be viewed in terms of certain parameters such as
(i) Over population and apathy towards family planning;
(ii) Poor land and water management for agriculture;
(iii) Mal-administration, poor governance and corruption;
(v) Poor health care; and
(vi) Lack of industrialisation.'
Similar is the story of Uttar Pradesh, which sends more people to Mumbai than does Bihar. UP's per capita income is the lowest in India, only after Orissa and Bihar. On social indicators -- incomes, health, and education -- the state has fared poorly. According to its government's web site, 'Among all the major Indian states, Uttar Pradesh has the highest birth rate and the highest fertility rate.' Also, the pace of population growth has outpaced and nuetralised the growth in incomes.
To revert to my ire at the out-migration from these states: why do those who govern those states expect others to share the burden that arises from the poor governance and neglect of its duties? Why is it that these states do not look inward, abandon caste-based politics -- nothing else matters, does it? -- and revert to a vision and mission to do good to its own populations?
Time they did that, right?
However, it does not mean that migration would stop entirely. That is never possible for as long as inequity persists, farms don't yield adequate livelihoods, and people continue to aspire for better lives. It can only be slowed down by making the man more comfortable in his agrarian milieu. The gush could taper into a trickle.
Do your own first
But the other states too should take counsel and stop demanding that the right to livelihood be assured and ensured in Mumbai and start creating their own jobs quickly and efficiently. Else, it would mean they are interested in only sustaining a one-way flow from their states. They have abdicated their responsibility for 61 long years since India became independent. They could not even touch the fringe of the problem, leave alone solve them.
Obviously, the solution to Mumbai's overload and consequent chaos lies less in Mumbai than it does elsewhere, at the very points from where the migrants originate. That, of course, no city can do by reaching out there.
Mumbai cannot provide the economic props that these deprived societies deserve and solve them when it is groaning under its own problems, partly caused by burgeoning population and partly by mismanagement.