Challenges Of Migration [UPSC Notes for GS I]

This article will describe in detail the issue of migration in India, causes of migration, problems associated with it and other factors.

These UPSC Notes on India’s migrational problems are aligned with the UPSC Syllabus and aspirants should prepare this topic for General Studies Paper I.

Migration and related issues are frequently heard in the news and hence its relevance for the UPSC Mains.

IAS Exam aspirants can find more notes for UPSC Mains General Studies topics from the links given at the end of the article.

Challenges Of Migration


  • Rising migration due to natural disasters, ethnic violence or employment 
  • There is a rise in violence against migrants accelerated by social media 
  • India has a large rural-to-rural migration. A major part of this is female migration after marriage. 
  • The number of rural to urban migration is about 14 crore, but unofficial figures put it much higher. Even 2017 Economic survey shows that the migrant population is in the country is 139 million. 
  • The increasing intensity of natural disasters like floods, drought, cyclones, etc. and distress migration due to the rural agrarian crisis has also increased the number of migrants in India. 
  • In cases of distress migration and migration into urban slums, the migrants become more vulnerable due to lack of negotiating power with the potential employers, lack of social capital or lack of political organization and clout. 


  • In urban areas, migrants are forced to live in ghettos with no access to amenities like clean drinking water, electricity, safe houses, etc. 
  • They form groups in public places or markets waiting to be recruited as manual labourers.
  • This makes them vulnerable to exploitation, which includes physical assaults, lack of a fair wage etc. 
  • Even though the cheap labour provided by them keeps the prices of commodities and services low, they are often portrayed as anti-social elements and face significant discrimination from other sections of society. The slums/ghettos where they are forced to live are routinely pictured as “crime infested” and they are harassed by law enforcement authorities. 
  • Because of the unstable nature of their jobs and residence, they are frequently declared illegal residents and are evicted or arrested. 
  • Social media has added to their misery. Migrants are often portrayed as criminals and this barrage of social media messages escalates into targeted violence against them. For example, a migrant allegedly raped a minor girl in Gujarat. Even though the accused was arrested the same day, there were attacks against migrant workers on a continuous basis. This was fuelled by incessant fearmongering and spread of hateful messages on social media. 
  • Similar fake messages also triggered a mass exodus of labourers from North-east in Bangalore as well. 
  • An increase in extreme climate events also triggers mass migration. These migrants are at an added disadvantage because in most cases, they have lost their relevant documents and any capital/asset that could facilitate an easy translocation. 
  • Another factor that contributes to an upward trend in internal migration is rural distress. 

Migrants in India and Covid-19

India saw its biggest migration since Independence during the lockdown phase because of the Covid-19 disease with over 10 million people walking thousands of kilometres to rural areas. This also led to the labour force participation rate falling as low as 35.57 per cent in April from 42.9 per cent in January 2020. Unemployment rates surged to 23.52 percent in April, with both rural and in urban areas taking a hit.

Reasons for Migration

  • Lakhs of migrant workers were rendered jobless as urban areas were shut due to lockdown.
  • Night shelters run by local authorities began overflowing, and supplies started dwindling.
  • These migrants were left with no choice but to head towards their hometowns.

Governments view the migration crisis as a consequence of the challenges of pandemic. However, there are some structural inadequacies in the public understanding of circular rural-urban migrants.

Structural inadequacies like –

  • inability to recognize the size and importance of these communities
  • inability to correctly count such migrants because of their shuttling between their villages and cities due to the informal conditions in which they live and work

These inabilities have real costs, rendering governments ill-prepared to anticipate the responses of migrant communities at crucial moments.

The government has announced relief measures for migrants and made arrangements for migrants to return to their native place.  The Supreme Court of India, recognizing the problems faced by migrants stranded in different parts of the country, reviewed transportation and relief arrangements made by the government.

Aspirants can refer to the UPSC Mains Syllabus at the linked article.

Way forward

  • There is a public perception that public funds are only for the “legitimate residents” of an area. The political class engaged in narrow ‘vote bank” politics also tend to overlook the genuine concern of migrants. 
  • These issues have to be tackled through long term awareness campaigns. 
  • Literacy campaigns specifically targeting migrant population also needs to be implemented. The “Changathi” campaign by Kerala government can be used as a model. 
  • Every major city has to start a specific budget just for the development of the migrant population. The central government also has to look at distress migration as a disaster-related issue and allocate necessary funds for the same. 
  • Smart city campaign needs to address the issue of large scale affordable and safe housing for migrants. 
  • Law enforcement agencies need to sensitise to the special needs of this vulnerable section. They also need to evolve special strategies to curb hate speech in social media.

Challenges of Migration (UPSC Notes – GS 1) – Download PDF Here

Aspirants can check BYJU’S UPSC Notes page for free GS1, GS2, and GS 3 notes.

Frequently Asked Questions on Migration in India

Q 1. What are the main causes for higher number of migrants in India?

Ans. In India, the major cause of migration is unemployment or natural disasters/pandemics. People tend to migrate from rural to urban areas in search of livelihood and work. Apart from this, rising migration is also due to natural disasters and ethnic violence. The COVID-19 pandemic saw major migration in the country.

Q 2. What is number of migrants in India?

Ans. The Economic Survey (2017) estimated that an average of 5–6 million Indians migrated annually between 2001 and 2011, leading to an inter-state migrant population of about 60 million and an inter-district migrant population as high as 80 million.

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