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The great Indian migration

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Despite the decline in total fertility rates (TFR) countrywide, 12 States continue to have TFR above 2.1 children per woman, known as replacement-level fertility. However, when the TFR declines, the drop does not stop at 2.1, as seen in Kerala (1.6), Tamil Nadu (1.7) and Karnataka (1.8). This leads to faster changes in the population structure characterised by a reduction in the proportion of young people and an increase in the proportion of the elderly.

When all the States in India are clustered in terms of fertility levels, one sees a predominantly youthful north and a maturing south and west. This demographic divergence between States and regions is important from the policy perspective and forward-looking development planning.

Most of the current and future demographic potential is locked in the northern States, and largely located in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. As per population projections, these five States will account for more than 55% of population growth in India till 2030. Those who are under 15 years of age today will become India’s working population in the coming decades, and almost every second person in this age group resides in these five States.

Migration-friendly planning

The proportion of the elderly started increasing in the southern States several years ago. Now, the phenomenon has extended to the western, extreme northern and eastern States. In the coming decades, they will require a young workforce to keep institutions functioning efficiently, and also to take care of the elderly. This need is likely to be met by people from the youthful north, with many moving to the ageing States. Already, the migration trend is evident, with established flows of young people from these States to other parts. The divergent demographic transition in the high-low TFR States will add further impetus to this movement in the coming decades.

The socio-economic implications of young people heading south, leaving the children and elderly behind, need to be analysed. The challenges of moving into new communities that speak different languages and have different cultures need to be understood and addressed. Along with the migrants, the issues of the locals must also be appreciated.

There is a need to gain deeper understanding of migration flows, so that estimations and projections can be made regarding changing need for housing and infrastructure, health care and utilities, education and skills. States need to work together to provide portability of identity proof and entitlements, as well as build support systems for families left behind.

India urgently needs to take cognisance of the divergent demographic transition trends. Timely strategic action can develop human capacities to cater to future needs and build rights-based policies that work for migrants as well as locals. All adding up to help optimise development, employment and collaboration across States in the country.

Diego Palacios is UNFPA Country Representative (India) and Country Director (Bhutan)

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 12:33:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-great-indian-migration/article19252961.ece

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