NEW DELHI : The stories of cities are often shaped by the migrants they attract from other parts of the country and the world. In India too, big cities have acted as large magnets for migrants, with more than half of Mumbai and a little less than half of Delhi classifying themselves as migrants. However, the migrant flows (or the net addition to migrants) to the two biggest cities were significantly lower compared to the metropolitan cities of the south (Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai) over the past decade.

In India’s six largest metros (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru), 48% of residents were migrants in 2011, according to the migration figures the census finally released earlier this year. India’s census provides the only comprehensive measure of migration in the country and defines a migrant as someone living away from their last residence. This includes migrants who may have migrated even before the previous census round (in this case, the 2001 census). Of the 48% migrant population in metros, less than half had migrated in the period 2001-11 (the rest had come earlier).

The inflow of migrants in the past decade was the highest in India’s new centres of economic prosperity and innovation, south of the Vindhyas.

Between 2001 and 2011, the proportion of migrants in Hyderabad saw the greatest increase among the six metros (39 percentage points increase), followed by Chennai (26 percentage points) and Bengaluru (15 percentage points) whereas Mumbai (11 percentage points) and Delhi (0.8 percentage points) saw lower inflows.

Unlike many other parts of the world, where urbanization is largely a rural-to-urban phenomenon, in India most migrants to big cities come from other cities and towns rather than villages. Of all the new migrants in the six metros, 81% had migrated from other urban areas. Of the metros, Delhi and Bengaluru attracted more migrants from rural areas compared to other cities. Kolkata actually saw a decline in the stock of rural migrants in the 2001-11 period, suggesting reverse distress migration to the countryside from one of India’s poorest urban agglomerations.

Apart from the urban-to-urban migration, the other striking feature of migration to metros is the dominant role of intra-state migration. All metros draw in the most migrants from their own state (in the case of Delhi, from the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh). Around 90 percent of migrant inflows to Hyderabad and Chennai in the past decade were from their respective states, (undivided) Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu respectively. Other than Delhi, Bengaluru had the lowest share of own-state migrants (68 percent), followed by Mumbai (81 percent).

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Varying migration patterns for Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata in the first decade of the 21st century.
Varying migration patterns for Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata in the first decade of the 21st century.
Southern metros saw an increase in migrants from all across India.
Southern metros saw an increase in migrants from all across India.

Click here to expand chart 3b

In terms of diversity, Bengaluru and Mumbai attracted a sizeable number of migrants (at least 10,000) from a sizeable number of states: 12 and 9 states, respectively. Kolkata did not attract any sizable number of migrants from other states. As part of the greater influx to southern cities, Chennai and Bangalore attracted migrants from states as far away as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh although their numbers were relatively low compared to the overall inflow of migrants to these cities.

These migrations are being driven by different factors in different cities. Only 12 percent of migrants who moved to the six biggest metros over the past decade cited work as a major reason for the move. Most migrants to Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai moved because of a household decision (e.g. husband/father/moving for a job). Marriage is another big driver of migration to cities.

Overall, the migrants that India’s biggest cities attract are largely from other towns and cities, and from a similar social milieu as the original inhabitants of the city. Our cities are much less cosmopolitan than we imagine them to be.

This is the third of a ten-part data journalism series on life in Indian cities.

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