Migration Pattern as a Metric for Development & Choice

In a recent forum at Harvard University, Arundhati Roy almost accused P. Chidambram for ‘wanting’ to increase the percentage of people living in Indian cities to 41% of its total population by 2030. In no way am I trying to defend Mr. Chidambram, but the population trends reveal this fact is true indeed.

People in India are increasingly making the choice of moving to the cities leaving more cognate rural areas. It is not merely in need for a change, as that would also mean that people from the cities as well would move to rural areas. It is the choice they are making in order to lead the kind of lives they have reasons to value more. And in choice hides the definition of freedom. While it is well established by the likes of Amartya Sen that freedom is a principal means to development, in a democracy such as India there could be no better reason to promote such choices, but only as long as the end of such choices is also fairly well understood.

Not to promote urbanization over rural development by any means, but  I ask what are these ends that people value more? The most apparent reason could be increased access to economic facilities. Jobs, and with that a higher income. But how about the other instruments of freedom that people often desire: social opportunities, political freedom, transparency guarantees and protective security. There may be latent improvements to the rest of these as well that come with migration, only less apparent. Or perhaps economic facilities really do bring more utility or happiness to the people.

Why are these other freedoms less desirable or less important? It is crucial to understand these priorities and the ends that people constantly try to achieve, for if we understand these ends, we could inform our policies such that these could be achieved without always having them to dislocate themselves.  Or just so they have a choice to stay.

At this junction, this essay can take two directions : Should these instruments of freedom be evaluated to see how they vary with context; or could a study of such inter-geographical movements lead to more insights about what people value more. I will, for the purpose of succinctness, stick to the latter.

Migration can be an important metric to measure why people prefer some areas over the other, and what the differences are between those geographical locations that make all the difference. I’m not sure whether enough data exists to substantiate these anecdotes with numbers, but pronounced migrations are noticed from rural areas to more urban areas. For instance, it is observed that there has been mass movement from the villages of Kerala to Middle East, for greater job opportunities, not always the best jobs, but jobs nonetheless. Or often people from Bihar make a better living for themselves in cities like Delhi or Mumbai, as they get exposed to better education facilities. In the former case, people forfeit their rights to political freedom and social opportunities, to fulfill their economic needs. In the latter case, though, they seemingly improve freedom in most aspects.

I believe that a more in-depth analysis of such migration patterns, can truly lead to insights about people’s choices of freedom and more importantly can then inspire better policies to manage the large and ever-increasing urban population.

[Read McKinsey’s Findings on Urbanization at :  https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/ghost.aspx?ID=/Economic_Studies/Country_Reports/Comparing_urbanization_in_China_and_India_2641 ]

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