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Challenges on the move

Rahul Gandhi said it: we need policies to improve conditions for economic migrants

Rahul Gandhi said it: we need policies to improve conditions for economic migrants

Two central ideas from Rahul Gandhi’s vision of India emerged from his speech at the CII: the perception of a nation on the move in search of opportunities from villages to towns,and the idea that divisive politics hurts economic growth. The rest of the speech was either about instrumentalities,with beehives used as a network symbol and references to partnerships,institutions and infrastructure,or anecdotes. For some,the central themes don’t seem to have registered as much as they should have.

Rahul Gandhi’s speech marked a return to the sort of annual sojourn the top political leadership would have with industry in earlier times,through Rajiv Gandhi’s period. The idea that with growth,we create opportunities outside the village and that farmers,landless labourers and artisans move to take advantage of them,has been with Rahul as part of his experience of rural India. A couple of years ago,aty revisioning a meeting at IRMA in Anand,he spoke of people who had migrated from Amethi to Lucknow,Delhi and Mumbai,finding little support there.

Much of the urbanisation in the last decade has taken place in what are called Census Towns — habitations that,on account of such movements of people,have developed all the defined characteristics of towns,but are not called so by our governance systems,for there is the politics of remaining a village. In China,for example,migration to towns is still officially controlled,although the authorities now wink at “unauthorised” migrants. But those people are still denied access to official urban services.

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This movement is of crores of people. They follow the demand for the goods and services they provide,go along non-existent roads to habitations that still are not called towns,and sit in lanes euphemistically called “markets”. Meanwhile,we discuss supply chains,aggregators,storage and first-stage processing. Some corporations are entering this area,but it remains largely unexplored. In my research,I discovered this movement a decade ago in studies on Gujarat,and predicted correctly that the state’s projection of its urban population for 2011 would be around 18 lakh short. It was a similar story in Punjab and Bihar. The country,as a whole,undercounts its urban population by four crore. The 12th Plan has corrected its base data for the new census numbers,but not its projections. The Economic Survey’s projections of the demographic dividend do not account for it,either. Correcting these deficiencies and putting in place policies to deal with this sort of migration could raise rural incomes by around a third by the end of this decade. Rahul showed that businesses could harness the wave in public-private partnerships,profit and meet the aspirations of the crores on the move.

The idea that exclusionary policies directed against particular communities would affect growth is obvious but,like most powerful common sense arguments,is ignored in practice. Positions on Gujarat tend to shape discussions on the subject,but the phenomenon identified by Rahul in his argument about economic migrants and the necessity of addressing their needs is wider than just Gujarat: for instance,anti-migrant rhetoric in Maharashtra,the tension between the Assamese and the Bodos or Oriyas and Bengalis,etc.

A former chief economic advisor wrote a statistical paper on the economic performance of Indian states. When I protested that his conclusion that there was no correlation between good economic performance and economic inclusion variables was incorrect,he said that he was not interested in politics. But economics is the science of human welfare and if particular sections are excluded,then,by definition,growth is not achieved. This may be a truism but when in issues of import,the obvious is overlooked,it has to be restated.

The writer is chancellor,Central University of Gujarat

First published on: 12-04-2013 at 02:27:12 am
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