Do not discriminate against non-resident migrants | Opinion – analysis
Prime Minister (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi recently announced that India must become Atmanirbhar (self-sufficient). One aspect of this could be that India will remove barriers within its domestic markets to truly become a single market. It will remove obstacles to efficiency improvements and become more competitive. The goods and services tax (GST) was a step in this direction. Recent decisions to remove obstacles to interstate agricultural trade are also similar. For agricultural and industrial products, as well as for capital, India is increasingly becoming a single market. The creation of an internal market without barriers is also an intention reflected in article 301 of the Constitution.
However, there is a market where friction is added rather than reduced. This is the job market. For different reasons, the leaders of the emigration and emigration states have made statements suggesting that there may be more impediments to interstate migration of workers. Some states have announced preferential treatment for workers within the state. Others have talked about instituting an approval system before allowing their workers to move to other states, in the context of how they were treated.
There are compelling reasons for internal migration in India.
First, India has much higher economic differences between states than comparable countries, with per capita income from the richest large state (Haryana) that is more than six times higher than the poorest state (Bihar). The wage gap between states is as high as 100% for regular workers and 250% for casual workers. Therefore, it is not surprising that workers from poorer states migrate to richer states to work. As of now, the best option for many poor people seeking to escape poverty is to leave the states in which they live, due to economic opportunities in wealthier states. This movement is difficult since the cost of living is also higher in the wealthier states. However, millions still migrate and face miserable conditions in immigration states because they need livelihoods.
Second, some of the poorer states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have younger and larger populations, with far more workers than job opportunities. Although these states must develop their economies, in the short term, migration is an essential component of development for them.
Third, India’s growth has been largely led by services. For most services, the availability of physical work is essential. For services such as cooking, driving, hairdressing, and security, workers must be physically present to provide the service.
While beneficial to migrants, migration also has negative implications. Migration can put downward pressure on wages in wealthier states, with increased labor supply. This creates an incentive for regional and local leaders to generate anti-migrant sentiment and promote policies that favor local workers. This dynamic is not very different from that observed in international migration: after a point, a political economy develops to oppose migration.
Throughout India’s history, states have enacted laws and measures that are discriminatory with respect to non-resident migrants. Many state laws discourage or prevent non-residents from applying for government jobs or other professions that require government licenses (car licenses, taxis) or deny them the benefits of educational reserves. Other laws, which prevail in some northeastern states, regulate the entry of non-residents within the state. However, another category of laws prevents non-residents from owning property (such as in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and others). The Union government recently announced “One Nation One Ration Card” because non-resident immigrants are currently not eligible for many state welfare schemes.
Although Article 19 (1) (d) of the Constitution guarantees free movement and residence, states have enacted “reasonable restrictions” to disadvantage non-resident migrants. Article 16 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of residence, but the criteria for determining reservations are often linked to local demographic characteristics. Courts have also largely upheld positive discrimination in employment and education that, however, discriminates against non-residents. They have confirmed not only residency as the basis for eligibility for jobs and educational positions, but also the charging of residence-based differential capitation fees. In doing so, the courts have generally privileged equal interests in the Constitution at the cost of free movement and residence.
While such measures apparently serve to protect local constituents, they inhibit migration and therefore the law of comparative advantage of operating for the benefit of immigration states. Bangalore could not have become an information technology hub if it had imposed restrictions on the movement of skilled professional migrants who eventually settled in the city. Contrary to nativist sentiments, the Karnataka population has been a net beneficiary of this immigration due to Bengaluru’s increased contribution to Karnataka’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in addition to the value of diversity.
This benefit is not limited to specialized or high-end services. As the Bangalore economy fuels Karnataka’s growth, a migrant hairdresser working in Bangalore is also important to the state’s economy. This was evident recently when the Karnataka government wanted to prevent migrants from going to their home states because of its importance to the construction industry. Therefore, it is time to seriously re-examine the legal framework that inhibits the movement of migrants across the country and prevents them from accessing security, housing and welfare services on an equal basis as residents.
KP Krishnan is a retired bureaucrat and Anirudh Burman is an Associate Fellow, Carnegie India
The article is co-authored with Suyash Rai, a member of Carnegie India, New Delhi.
The opinions expressed are personal.