Historically, migration of people has been a global phenomenon for which there are several instances from different parts of the world. For example, in the wake of the oil boom in the Middle East, lakhs of people, mostly semiskilled labour migrated from Kerala.
No doubt that the Middle East was more prosperous than Kerala to attract migrant labour, but during the same period Kerala attracted lakhs of people from other parts of India, whom Kerala treats as guest workers. To them, Kerala is what the Middle East is to Keralites.
Within our national boundaries’, movement of people from one region to another has been common for similar economic reasons. Regional disparities within countries, as well as disparities between countries, on account of several reasons, are common.
Removing these has been one of the major development objectives of nation-states. Our five-year plans and Industrial Development Policies bear testimony to the conscious efforts of successive Governments to promote balanced growth of our economy.
Though we have given up five-year plans and Industrial policy instruments for socio-economic growth, our quest for more balanced development leading to a better distribution of production of goods and services and wealth continues.
We realize that in the context of a globalizing economy, ensuring balanced regional development is a complex process, especially for a country of our size and diversity.
To my mind, the challenge before us is to manage our disparities and imbalances in the pursuit of our overall socio-economic objectives. Viewed in this perspective, the phenomenon of migrant labour is an inevitable component of our socio-economic development process, which is not easily amenable to forced regulations.
Having said that, let me hasten to add that within their given contexts, the State Governments can and should through the many instruments at their command do a lot to make the process of migration smooth and orderly and ensure it benefits not only the labourers but also their families and regions. By and large, the Kerala experience has shown that it is a win-win game.
Author: Synergia Foundation Research Team