Rs 750 cr remitted annually to other states by migrant workers in Kerala, reveals study
Migrant workers do have a crucial role in the Kerala economy these days. Their growing omnipresence in the state and influence in the manufacturing sector is unparalleled, reveals data. A study by the State Planning Board (Evaluation Division) in 2021 pointed out that an estimated 7.5 billion rupees (750 crore) are going out of Kerala annually as remittance to other states of India.
According to the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID), an independent non-profit organisation that advocates and promotes the social inclusion of migrants in India, these out-of-state workers spend nearly one-third of their earnings in Kerala as of 2017.
Similarly, a study by the State Planning Board (Evaluation Division) suggested that the total number of other state domestic migrants in Kerala was around 31 lakhs during the year 2017-18. This has doubled in the last three years despite a brief slump during the Covid pandemic. Further, it is estimated that the total migrant population in Kerala will be nearly 60 lakh by 2030.
Meantime, a CMID study revealed that migrants from 194 districts across 25 Indian states/Union Territories worked in Kerala during 2016- 2017. More than four-fifths of these districts belong to eight Indian states - Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam.
“In Perumbavoor, a place in Ernakulam district- an estimate of around Rs 60 crores was contributed to the local economy by migrants during the year 2016 alone,” said Benoy Peter, an expert on internal migration in India, and one of the founders of CMID.
“There is a sizable population of around one lakh migrants in Perumbavoor and nearby areas that fuels the business and industrial establishments in the district. It is worthwhile to remember that we need them more than they need us. Construction, plywood manufacturing, plantations, hospitality industry, iron and steel industry, marine fishing-fish processing, mining, quarrying, textile and apparel etc all run with a workforce provided by these people. Without them, the day to day operations of the primary and secondary sectors in the state will collapse quite easily,” he pointed out.
Jisha Case to Violence in Kizhakkambalam
The migrant community faced public scrutiny in several incidents in the past. The gruesome murder of Jisha, a 29-year-old law student in Perumbavoor and the subsequent arrest of an Assamese native led to a public outcry that gave a “criminalised” sense of attachment to the usage of “Bhai” henceforth.
Most recently, the events in Kizhakkambalam that left several police officers injured, and their vehicles set on fire by a mob of migrant workers had left several scratching their heads to find an ideal solution to the problem.
Benoy Peter dismissed the argument that migrant workers are dangerous and that they are arriving in the state in order to escape from criminal cases in their native place. “Xenophobia is a major issue here. People have this misconception about migrant workers. First of all, we needed to realise that these workers are from backward classes and tribal communities in the poorest parts of India. They are coming from places where there are no basic amenities. The situation of these people is completely different from that of us. Many of them are arriving in Kerala to escape from these hardships of life,” he added.
He also condemned the incident that occurred in Kizhakkambalam and pointed to the availability and increasing use of drugs among the communities. “It was really unfortunate what happened in Kizhakkambalam. The migrant workers were under the influence of drugs, and other intoxicants. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. The easy access to these drugs is a major problem.” he added. However, Benoy Peter pointed out that it is not wise for some people to judge all migrant workers based on what happened that day.
Bengali or Bangladeshi?
Another major criticism faced by authorities is the presence of illegal workers who arrived from Bangladesh. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.
CMID study revealed that in Perumbavoor, 40% of migrant workers are from West Bengal, 20% from Assam, 20% from Tamil Nadu, 12 % from Odisha and the rest from different parts of India.
“Of the 40% Bengal natives, 80% of them are from Murshidabad in West Bengal, a small city that lies closer to India’s border with Bangladesh. This area, in particular, has families with close ties on either side of the border. It is possible that people illegally cross the borders, and often find work here in India,” Benoy Peter added.
The economy of Murshidabad for instance has grown significantly as a result of the people working in Kerala. The better wages in Kerala compared to what they have in their native place is what drives them to work here, he added.
Further, Nagaon in Assam also contributed to around 48 per cent of workers in Ernakulam. Theni and Dindigul emerged as the major districts in the case of Tamil migrants. Several migrants from Odisha belonging to the Ganjam district which is among one of the most backward districts in the country are also present in Ernakulam.