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How low spending on infrastructure results in large-scale distress migration

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The picture is for representation only. Credit: rohitgautamphotography.wordpress.com

Distress migration is one of serious issues affecting India’s Aam Aadmi. Poverty, lack of job opportunities, low-income, search for better living conditions, etc. among the many reasons that force people to leave their native villages and towns and migrate into other states. Here is an article, which explores how a state’s investment on infrastructure projects affects distress migration.

By Himadri Ghosh

Raju Rai was 17 when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to leave his village in Jharkhand’s overwhelmingly rural Jamtara district in search of a livelihood. He’s 22 now and earns Rs 10,000 ($145) a month, painting buildings in Bangalore, about 1,980 km to the southwest.

“As a gift, God gave us poverty,” said the lean, unsmiling young man, whose chief ambition is to save enough money, find his sister a “good man” and “get her married with Dhoom-Dham (in style)”.

How infrastructure pending affects distress migration

Rai’s story is common among many of the 307 million Indians who report themselves to be migrants by place of birth, according the 2001 census report (the 2011 data is not final).

Of these, 268 million (85 percent) migrated within their state, 41 million (13 percent) migrated to another state and 5.1 million (1.6 percent) left India.

Men primarily migrated long-distance as migrant labor to earn more money – marriage was a prime reason for women – and an IndiaSpend analysis found that migration largely correlates with a state’s investment in infrastructure.

States with lower per capita infrastructure spending typically – but not always – have lower per capita incomes, sparking large migrations, according to finance ministry data.

Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh are among the states with lower infrastructure spending and low per capita incomes.

High infrastructure spending states like Goa, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Haryana and Gujarat also have higher per capita incomes.

So, India is witnessing wide variations in per capita income and growing levels of distress migration from low-income states, experts said.

“Such large flows of migration from village to city have unsettling political and economic effects,” said Sukumar Muralidharan, a felow at the Shimla-based Indian Institute of Advanced Study, a think-tank run by the ministry of human resource development.

Infrastructure is important, but there are other reasons

While infrastructure appears to be the overwhelming link between per capita income and migration, there are important exceptions.

Consider India’s richest state, Goa, which has a per capita income of Rs 224,138 ($3,300), the same as Indonesia ($3,491) and Ukraine ($3,082).

Goa’s per capita infrastructure spending is the highest in India, Rs 36,516. Haryana and Maharashtra stand second and third, respectively, in per capita income, and also in per capita spending on infrastructure.

Maharashtra and Delhi have high in-migration rates, accounting for 16.4 percent and 11.6 percent of the country’s total migration. The large inflow of people into states like Maharashtra (nearly 8 million in 2001) and Delhi (over five-and-a-half million in 2001) is because of the opportunities they offer.

Now consider Bihar, with a per capita income of Rs.31,199 ($589), and Uttar Pradesh’s Rs.36,250, ($534), which are less than Mali ($704) and Guinea ($539).

Bihar spends Rs 13,139 per capita on infrastructure and Uttar Pradesh Rs 9,793.

Compared to Maharashtra and Delhi, the inflow of people to states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is limited: Only 1,794,219 and 2,972,111 people migrated to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh In 2001.

The exceptions are evident in prosperous states with low infrastructure spending, such as Punjab and Kerala, and low-income states with relatively higher per capita infrastructure spending, such as Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.

The precise reasons are not clear, but uneven geography, diverse demography, culture and politics could be reasons for the breaks in pattern, experts said. Attention to the social sector, as in Kerala, is an explanation.

Although the responsibility for promoting equity and equitable development is shifting to the states, as IndiaSpend has reported, the Centre has a role, said Ajitava Raychaudhuri, professor of economics at Jadavpur University. “States need pragmatic planning,” he said. “Equity across states needs focused intervention from the Central government.”

The importance of backward regions, under-invested sectors and local jobs

In the power sector, the thumb-rule is that every rupee invested in generation should be backed by an equivalent sum invested in transmission and distribution, said IIAS’ Muralidharan.

“As against this 1:1 ratio, the record in India has been closer to 8:2,” he said.

Unplanned investment can be as responsible as low investment for disparities, some argue.

Samantak Das, chief economist and national director at Knight Frank India, a global real estate consultancy, explained that vote bank politics is causing disparities as people from backward states depend more on their leaders, and leaders of all hues take advantage to translate this into votes.

“We need evenly-distributed, strategically-planned infrastructure in the country. We have to have social infrastructure, physical infrastructure because infrastructure has a high positive rub-off effect on growth,” Das added.

Raychaudhuri said the future can be secure only if capital expenditure and environmental planning are increased simultaneously.

The rural-urban divide-and, migration-can be addressed by encouraging micro, small and medium enterprises locally.

As evidence grows that the job-creating potential of large industry is falling in India, migration appears to be growing.

India’s urban population has grown faster than its rural population since the last Census, according to provisional 2011 census data.

The proportion of migrants in the urban population was 35% in 2007-08, when measured by the National Sample Survey.

This intermingling plays out in growing reports of conflicts with outsiders in various Indian states.

“Migrations lead to ethnic and cultural stereotyping and intolerance towards people seen as different due to competitive politics,” Muralidharan said.

Since infrastructure spending is a major factor in economic growth, it is important that related budgetary allocations rise to India’s more backward states, particularly their backward regions, said Sidhartha Mitra, head of the economics department at Jadavpur University.

The exceptions to the rule indicate, he said, that social-sector spending is equally important. (IANS/IndiaSpend.org)

Next Story

Poverty and Inequality Rising Rapidly in Thailand: Report

Poverty, Inequality in Thailand on the Rise, World Bank Says

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"Taking the Pulse of Poverty and Inequality in Thailand," launched last week, says the country's poverty rate jumped from 7.2% to 9.8% between 2015 and 2018, adding nearly 2 million new people to the ranks of the poor. Pixabay

By Zsombor Peter

Thailand’s poverty rate has been rising in recent years despite steady, if slow, overall economic growth, a new World Bank report says, widening the gap between rich and poor in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

“Taking the Pulse of Poverty and Inequality in Thailand,” launched last week, says the country’s poverty rate jumped from 7.2% to 9.8% between 2015 and 2018, adding nearly 2 million new people to the ranks of the poor. Inequality, as measured by household consumption, also spiked in 2016 for the first time in four years and has eased little since.

Analysts see a direct link between those figures and the results of last year’s general elections, Thailand’s first since a 2014 military coup led by then-General Prayut Chan-ocha, now the country’s prime minister.

Pheu Thai, a party tied to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won the second most votes and the largest share of seats in the popularly elected House of Representatives, the lower house of the National Assembly,  with strong support from some of the country’s poorest provinces in the North and Northeast.

A junta-appointed Senate and Election Commission finally tipped the contest to form a majority government in Prayut’s favor, but the numbers echoed the lasting disaffection of the country’s poor.

“Plummeting incomes were clearly a major factor in the opposition’s strong showing in the 2019 general election. That is why Pheu Thai did so well — especially given  that rural farmers and also urban households continue to be attracted by the populism of Thaksin,” said Paul Chambers, a political analyst and lecturer at Thailand’s Naresuan University.

Thaksin was first elected prime minister in 2001, after the shock of the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, and reelected four years later only to be kicked out of office by a military coup in 2006. The telecoms tycoon now lives abroad, avoiding a 2008 corruption conviction that he disputes. However, the subsidies, cash transfers and other populist policies he pushed have left him and his proxies with a loyal following among the farmers of Thailand’s rural North and Northeast, who feel left behind by an urban elite cloistered mostly in the capital, Bangkok.

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The World Bank said many of Thailand’s poverty spikes coincided with regional or global financial crises or with drought but added that periods of political instability also tend to depress consumption and investment, which can drive incomes down and poverty rates up. Pixabay

“That is partly why Thaksin was able to rise in the early 2000s, because of grievances over this disproportionate allocation of resources,” said Harrison Cheng, an associate director with consulting firm Control Risks who follows Thailand.

He said the concentration of wealth and power in Bangkok has continued under Prayut.

The World Bank report backs him up. It shows poverty hovering steadily at about 2% between 2015 and 2018 in Bangkok while rising everywhere else, nowhere more so than in the strife-torn South. Riven by a Muslim insurgency, the South became the country’s poorest region in 2017, only just edging out the Northeast with a poverty rate of about 12%. The South again topped the Northeast in 2018 with a poverty rate just over 14%.

The report ascribes the latest rises in poverty and inequality to droughts, slow economic growth and falling incomes among both rural farmers and urban businesses.

The bank says Thailand has now seen four such spikes since 2000, more than any of the other nine Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries.

The report’s author, Judy Yang, attributes that, at least in part, to slow wage growth during the period, slower than in any of the bloc’s other large economies.

“If you are a household, what really pulls you out of poverty is getting a better-paying job, getting more income, getting labor market income,” she said.

What also sets Thailand apart is its political turmoil. The coup-prone country has seen four swings between military and civilian rule since 2006, governments cut short by controversial court orders and several rounds of mass protests, some of them deadly.

The World Bank said many of Thailand’s poverty spikes coincided with regional or global financial crises or with drought but added that periods of political instability also tend to depress consumption and investment, which can drive incomes down and poverty rates up.

Cheng, of Control Risks, said his conversations with clients confirm that Thailand’s volatile politics have kept many potential investors at bay, holding the economy back.

“A lot of the investors are staying away and taking a wait-and-see approach for a long, long time now,” he said.

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A man begs for money in central Bangkok, Thailand. VOA

“If they are not in Thailand already, they will be thinking very seriously about whether they should do so because what if there’s a change in government again? What if there are massive street protests like in 2013, 2014? Are you going to repeat the 2010 Bangkok standoff between the Red Shirts and the military?” he added, referring to Thaksin supporters by their color-coded apparel of choice.

Cheng said the constant and sudden turnover in governments has also fostered a habit of short-term policy prescriptions on poverty and inequality that have done more to soothe the symptoms than cure the causes.

Chambers and Cheng agreed that if the latest bout of bad numbers gets worse, Prayut’s problems will also be increased by swelling ranks of not just the poor but also of disenchanted voters.

The World Bank report proffers poverty and inequality figures only up to 2018 but adds that “trends beyond this year are not optimistic, given continued low economic growth rates and stagnant wages.”

Another severe drought devastated farmers last year as the country’s gross domestic product growth rank sank to 2.4%, its lowest since 2014. GDP forecasts for 2020 are even worse, owing much to the novel corona virus outbreak, which has hit the country’s important tourism sector hard.

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To counter those blows, Prayut’s government has ramped up and introduced new social welfare programs for the poorest households and last week approved a stimulus package expected to pump some $12.6 billion into the economy.

The World Bank recommends that authorities continue to strengthen the country’s safety net and create better jobs for low-income earners in the short term. In the longer term, it says giving all children equal access to health and education opportunities would be the best way to make future generations more prosperous and more equal. (VOA)