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Opinion: Right to vote- A far cry for migrant workers
Citizens foremost and precious right is the right to vote. The right to elect their representatives to the Parliament, state Legislature, and local bodies are among the supreme rights enjoyed by the citizens of a country.
Citizens foremost and precious right is the right to vote. The right to elect their representatives to the Parliament, state Legislature, and local bodies are among the supreme rights enjoyed by the citizens of a country. The 21st century is characterised as the century of migration. People move out of their countries or hometowns to seek jobs in other countries or within their own country between states or within a state (Inter-state migrants and intra-state migrants). Oddly, the 2019 Parliamentary election is expected to exclude the emigrant workers from India (10 to 12 million) and inter-state migrants (closer to 40 million) from their right to vote.
How many are inter-state migrants?
India’s total population, as recorded in the Census of 2011, stands at 1.21 billion. Internal migrants in India constitute a large population, that is, 309 million or 30 per cent of the population and estimates that are more recent suggest 326 million or 28.5 per cent of the population. Projections indicate that internal migrants may increase in number to approximately 400 million according to Census 2011 (Rajan, 2013).
Further, internal migration remains grossly underestimated due to empirical and conceptual difficulties in measurement. India experienced rapid urbanisation between 2001 and 2011, with an estimated 31.8 per cent decadal growth. Migration - one of the components of India’s urban growth - is likely to increase steadily in the future. India is expected to reach 400 million migrants in 2021, accounting for 33 per cent of the total population.
Migration in India is primarily of two types: (a) Long-term migration, resulting in the relocation of an individual or household and (b) Short-term or seasonal/circular migration, involving back and forth movement between a source and destination. Estimates of short-term migrants vary from 15 million (NSSO 2007–2008) to 100 million. Yet, macro surveys such as the Census fail to adequately capture flows of short-term migrants and do not record secondary reasons for migration.
The Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (HUPA) constituted an 18-member Working Group in 2015, which recommended the necessary legal and policy framework to protect the interests of the migrants in the country. The panel in its report stated that the migrant population makes a substantial contribution to economic growth and so it is necessary to secure their Constitutional rights. However, this working group failed to address the voting rights of migrant workers. For the first time in the history of the country, the Economic Survey of India 2017, stated that when the five years ended in 2016, an average of nine million people migrated between states every year for either education or work.
These figures of the population are almost double in the inter-state migration recorded in 2001-2011 and captured by Census of 2011. The survey reveals that states like Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat attracted large numbers of migrants from the Hindi-speaking states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh. According to the survey, internal migration rates have dipped in Maharashtra and surged in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, reflecting the growing pull of Southern states in the migration dynamics of India.
Out-migration rate or the rate at which people have moved out increased in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but dipped in Assam. The survey reinforces the fact that the less affluent states have more out-migrants and the most affluent states are the largest recipients of migrants.
Voting rights for migrant workers
At the end of the day, the reality of migrant workers working in another place other than their constituency cannot vote. One of the efforts taken by the Union government to provide voting rights to the emigrant workers (those who work with Indian passports outside India) was through proxy voting. However, the Election Commission rejected the proposition because voting in India is a secret voting system and another person (proxy) cannot exercise this right of a voter, which defeats the purpose of secret voting. Thus, the question arises, as to how many migrant workers can register themselves as voters in new places to which they move because of work? The proposed provision that the Election Commission is providing may be appropriate for those who move within the linguistic state border. However, many migrant workers who move from the northern to southern states may not be able to go to their respective polling booth to exercise their right as this is an additional expenditure and involves travel cost and time.
Several inter-state migrant workers are in possession of voter IDs according to an NGO, which conducted a study regarding the same. Hence, arriving at a practical solution regarding where a migrant would vote, either in the state of origin or the destination state, is imperative. Some of the highly likely problems include politicians raising uproar in the destination states when migrant workers speaking other languages (besides theirs) are granted the right to choose their representatives.
Aggravating the problem is migrant workers may not be familiar with the local politics, political parties, and their local dynamics. An alternative would be to facilitate their return to their state for voting but this involves money, time, and loss of wages. Electronic voting is another option whereby the migrant workers can vote for a political party of their choice contesting in the election in their state of origin.
While several alternatives are available, millions of migrant workers remain disenfranchised just because they have migrated from one state to another for work. Unfortunately, none of the political parties has addressed this issue in their election manifestoes as the migrant workers stay excluded from the electoral politics. India has to learn from other countries such as the Philippines and her own neighbour Sri Lanka, who have successfully provided voting rights for the migrant workers. On a dismal note, India failed in both fronts, when concerned with providing voting rights to the inter-state migrants as well as to her emigrant workers.
—The author is a political analyst
Inter-state migrants in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu is home to more than a million migrant workers. The survey shows that a majority of the 10.67 lakh migrant workers in the state are unskilled workers.
About 27 per cent are employed in the manufacturing sector; 14 per cent in textile industries, and 11.41 per cent in the construction sector.
According to the migrant worker survey, 20.9 per cent of migrant workers in Tamil Nadu live in Kancheepuram district.
The top three districts- Kancheepuram, Chennai, and Tiruvallur house 51.3 per cent of the migrant worker population. Real estate projects, manufacturing sector, and the metro rail work have attracted a huge number of migrant labourers.
The second maximum number of jobs is offered by the textile and allied industries, which employ 1.5 lakh workers, evidently why Coimbatore has 12.1 per cent and Tirupur has 9 per cent of the migrant population in the state.