ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On the Importance of Triangulating Data Sets to Examine Indians on the Move

A chapter dedicated to migration in the Economic Survey 2016–17 signals the willingness on the part of Indian policymakers to address the linkages between migration, labour markets, and economic development. This paper attempts to take forward this discussion. We comment on the salient mobility trends in India gleaned from existing data sets, and then compare and critique estimates of the Economic Survey with traditional data sets. After highlighting the data and resultant knowledge gaps, the article comments on the possibility of using innovative data sources and methods to understand migration and human mobility. It also offers ideas on how an enhanced understanding of mobility is important for policy interventions for those individuals who change locations permanently and those who move seasonally.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that migration statistics has not been anyone’s priority in India. The National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) survey of employment–unemployment and migration was last conducted in 2007–08. Subsequent surveys of NSSO, at best, have had a question or two on a specific aspect of migration, which are certainly not enough to piece together any compelling evidence on migration flows. Based on information collected as part of the Census of India 2011, the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India (RGI) has released exactly one state-specific table on internal migration in India. The year is 2017 and we know precious little about migration patterns between 2001 and 2011, leave alone what is happening in real time. As a result, in the era of “smart” and “digital,” programmes and policies related to migration are being conceived sans robust and timely data.

The Economic Survey 2016–17 (GoI 2017a) highlights this data paucity while also opening up the possibilities of using innovative sources and methods for estimating human mobility in the country. The Economic Survey provides indirect estimates of internal migration based on change in population of age-cohorts over 2001–11 and an additional estimate based on unreserved ticket sales data from the Indian Railways. The two estimates differ widely from those of traditional data sets. The Economic Survey builds the case that on an average nine million individuals annually changed residence permanently on account of work since 2011–12. Contrast this with the following estimates. As per the Census of India, in the period 1981–90, 1991–2000, and 2001–10, an estimated 9.9 million, 14.5 million, and 18.7 million individuals, respectively, moved on account of work. It is evident that the estimate based on railway data is higher by a multiple of 4.5 times. These sizeable differences raise the issue of comparability of these data sets, but also points to the urgent need to examine closely if human mobility has indeed increased substantially in recent times.

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Updated On : 24th Nov, 2017

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