Internal Migration in India and the Impact of Uneven Regional Development and Demographic Transition across States: A Study for Evidence based Policy Recommendations


This study was published in June 2020 by the Institute for Human Development (IHD), New Delhi, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund. It examines migration patterns in India to understand the impact of uneven economic development across states.

The report analyses the growth of the labour force with a focus on interstate and rural-urban migration. It studies the migration policies of Jharkhand, Kerala and Odisha, and recommends ways to improve welfare schemes at the central and state levels. It uses data available 1991 onwards from the government of India’s Census 2011 and National Sample Surveys. The report also refers to findings of the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) of 2004-05 and 2011-12, conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi.

The 10 chapters of this study are divided into three parts: Internal Migration in India: Its Trends and Pattern Since 1991 (Part 1) covering chapters 2-7; Unequal Development and Its Influence on Migration (Part 2) with chapters 8-10; and Appendices (Part 3).

The 254-page report was written by Ajit Kumar Jha, assistant professor at the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development in New Delhi; Balakrushna Padhi, assistant professor at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani; Kirti Gaur and Kunal Keshri, post-doctoral fellow and assistant professor at the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute in Prayagraj; and Ravi Srivastava, director of IHD.


  1. As per Census records, there were 232 million migrants in India in 1991, 312 million in 2001, and 450 million in 2011. This enumeration includes immigrants. It does not account for workers in Jammu and Kashmir due to the absence of Census 1999 data from there. Since 1971, the Census has been collecting information on ‘migrants by place of last residence’, which refers to those who last resided in a place other than where they were enumerated.

  2. United Nations documents define a ‘lifetime migrant’ as people whose area of residence on the survey date is different from where they were born. The report states that the lifetime migration rate in India increased from 26.1 per cent in 1991 to 28.5 per cent in 2001, and to 32.7 per cent in 2011. Most states and union territories – except for Kerala and Madhya Pradesh – have shown a gradual increase in the migration rate.

  3. The report notes that Odisha and Jharkhand are ‘out-migrating’ states with large numbers of seasonal migrants, while Kerala is a major ‘in-migrating’ state with many workers from eastern and north-eastern states. The study was carried out through interviews and an analysis of policy documents in Jharkhand, while secondary sources like data from the government and Bhubaneshwar-based organisation Migration Information and Resource Centre were used for the other two states.

  4. The report calculates ‘net intercensal migration’ rates – the difference between the total number of immigrants and emigrants estimated between Census surveys – using the ‘census survival ratio’. Between Census 2001 and 2011, out-migration was highest in the state of Uttar Pradesh (four million migrants) followed by Bihar (2.8 million) and Andhra Pradesh (1.1 million). Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan are also net out-migrating states – meaning that the number of people who migrate out of these states is more than those who migrate to them.

  5. From 2001 to 2011, the net intercensal in-migration was highest in Tamil Nadu (3.5 million migrants), followed by Maharashtra (2.3 million), Karnataka (1.2 million) and Gujarat (one million). States like Delhi, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and West Bengal, also have a greater number of people migrating to them than vice versa.

  6. As per IHDS data, households from higher socio-economic strata exercise greater mobility, in that they have a larger proportion members who have migrated elsewhere. In 2004-05, 9.8 per cent of these ‘non-poor’ households had at least one migrant member, compared to 7.1 per cent among poor households.

  7. According to 2011-12 data, the proportion of seasonal migrants in the total population is less than two per cent. It is lesser in urban areas (0.5 per cent) than rural areas (2.5 per cent). The number of these short-term migrants in India is estimated to be over 22 million.

  8. IHDS data from 2011-12 states that three per cent males compared to 0.4 per cent females migrated seasonally in the preceding five years. Around 1.9 per cent males compared to 0.3 per cent females migrated seasonally in the preceding year.

  9. There are more seasonal migrants with high school degrees than those with college degrees – according to data from 2011-12. Seasonal migration is highest among Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities at 2.8 per cent, followed by Other Backward Classes (OBCs) at 1.8 per cent and higher castes at 0.9 per cent.

  10. Between 2001 and 2011, rural to urban migration accounted for a 15 per cent increase in Bihar’s urban population. This rate was 18.8 per cent in Odisha; 19.8 per cent in Madhya Pradesh; 20.4 per cent in Tamil Nadu; 21.9 per cent in Rajasthan; 22.6 per cent in Uttar Pradesh; 23.7 per cent in the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura; 26.2 per cent in Assam; 27.6 per cent in Andhra Pradesh; 29 per cent in Kerala; 30.3 per cent in Gujarat; and 30.8 per cent in Haryana.

  11. The major factors influencing interstate migration are higher gross domestic product in the destination state; similarity of language in states of origin and destination; differing levels of urbanisation across states; and more employment opportunities in the organised sector of the destination state.

  12. The report recommends a coordinated plan of action between central and state levels to create and manage welfare schemes for migrants. Such a plan must account for an urbanisation policy cognizant of the needs of migrant workers, and promote regional development to build infrastructure and livelihoods in poorer states.

    Focus and Factoids by Kanak Rajadhyaksha.


Ajit Kumar Jha, Balakrushna Padhi, Kirti Gaur, Kunal Keshri and Ravi Srivastava


Institute for Human Development, Delhi


Jun, 2020