From Bundelkhand to Delhi, from Marathwada to Mumbai, from Raichur to Bengaluru – residents of rural India are being driven out of their homes and into the big cities by drought. It's a movement of people that's being going on for about a year now, brought on my consecutive failures of the rain that's left farm lands barren and little work agricultural work in drought-hit districts.
In October last year, Scroll reporters met farmers looking for work as daily labourers in Pune. They were among thousands who had left Marathwada and Vidarbha because poor rains had led to crop failures that left them with no means of income through agriculture. Even back then, the migrants were finding it hard to find work in the cities. At that time, the farmers were finding it hard to find work at factories or in construction in Pune. The jobs had already been taken by those who had arrived in the city before them.
Annual migration from dryland areas in Bundelkhand, interior Maharashtra and north interior Karnataka are common. Farmers leave their water stressed land for the summer months to find work in the cities and return to their fields with the advent of the rains. But the flow of people into cities has turned into a veritable flood this summer, as delays in the government's rural employment scheme has resulted in failure to provide work and incomes to the rural poor. About 68% of the country's population lives in rural areas, 15% of GDP comes from agriculture but one-third of the country has been affected by this drought.
The many risks for migrants
In early April, CNN-IBN reported that at least 18 lakh people had moved from Bundelkhand into Delhi in the past year and, as is the only resort for most distress migrants, are living in slums next to construction sites in the city. In Mumbai, the number of people living under flyovers and sleeping outside train stations has grown this summer. In addition to looking for work and worrying about their children who are no longer in school, migrants face the risk of being trafficked, social activists point out.
In Mumbai, the influx of distress migrants has been dramatic enough for city corporators to demand aid from the municipal corporation to provide them shelter, food and jobs. The Mumbai police have already pressed to helping 250 of Ghatkopar's new residents out of scuffles with its old ones over water tanker supplies. The big available workforce is, however, helping Mumbai prepare for the monsoons. The corporation has shifted the responsibility of unclogging the city's drains from private contractors to the municipal wards. The wards have outsourced the work to NGOs which are tapping into this huge pool of employable people who have entered the city, Mid-Day reports.
What's left behind
While cities get more stressed with its burgeoning population, many ghost villages have been left in rural India. Across Marathwada and north Karnataka are villages with only the elderly and children as all the young and able-bodied have left to find work elsewhere. Villages in Raichur were deserted in early March, even before the full onset of summer, according to The Hindu. As the government stopped releasing water from reservoirs into irrigation canals to endure drinking water supply, the farmers all left to look for construction jobs in Bengaluru and Pune. In a Beed village, the Times of India found people older than 70 have been working in the fields to feed themselves.
With farmers who have up to 20 acres of land and considered rather well off in other circumstances joining the migrant bandwagon this year, the spate of suicides continues among smaller farmers burdened with debt. In 2016 alone, 116 farmers have committed suicide, the most number of cases coming from Maharashtra, Punjab and Telangana.