What two things about immigration into cities like Bombay will you hear often?
One, that people are flooding in. The figure of 300 families a day has been flung about for a generation. Ex-Maharashtra Chief Minister Manohar Joshi repeated it to the Hindustan Times recently; in April, Newsweek even upped that, reporting that migrants are "pouring into the city at the rate of some 400 families a day."
Two, that migrants are criminals who live on the streets and turn the city into a cesspool. A man called Raj Thackeray recently told Mid-Day that while "educated people, decent people, have been coming and living here for years," his problem is that other people "come and spread filth."
Both homilies are repeated so often that few question them. But let's do just that.
In 1995, a city organisation called the Centre for Research & Development published its Socio-Economic Review of Greater Bombay. The CRD was chaired by the late DD Sathe, once Chief Secretary of Maharashtra. Those who worked on the report include senior Government officials and professors at Bombay University. They were advised by experts ranging from the then state Chief Secretary to the Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic). Data for the report came from different State and Central Government departments, agencies such as the Bombay Municipal Corporation and the Bombay Metropolitan Region Development Authority, census figures and other publications. And the report was actually commissioned by the Municipality.
I detail all this because there should be no doubt in your mind about the authority of this Review, nor the credentials of its authors. (They have, I believe, an more recent edition).
In the decade 1981-91, says the Review, net migration into Bombay was 283,000. That is, on each day of that decade, 78 people migrated into Bombay. Taking the generally accepted norm of 5 people per family, that's 16 families.
Not 300 or 400 families, but sixteen.
The highest that immigration into Bombay has ever been was in the '70s, when it averaged less than 60 families a day. What's more, measured as a fraction of the city's growth, immigration sank below 50% during the 1960s and has continued to fall.
So what about that other contributor to growth, babies? In 1991, the Review says, the city's birth rate was 2.17 per cent. That is, about 217,000 babies were born in the city that year. 595 each day. Compare to the migration figure of 78 a day.
For every two people who travelled into Bombay during 1991, 15 more were born here. Births contributed several times more to the city's population growth than did migration. The Review notes this fact: "Natural increase contributed most (83%) to the growth of Bombay's population in 1981-91."
Important note: The Review comments on the sharp decline in migration during the '80s. It speculates that perhaps the 1991 Census undercounted Bombay's population slightly. But even by "more plausible" projections the Review makes using earlier data, migration into Bombay in the '80s was 241 people a day. 48 families.
What's more, the 2001 Census only confirms the downward trend (reported, for example, in Bombay Times, May 5 2003): migration into Bombay in the '90s was 200 people a day. 40 families.
Not 300 or 400 families, but forty.
Thing is, it's easy to blame migration for the conditions in the city, as on a disastrous July 26. And doing that, it's easy to blame only those migrants who end up on streets, in our slums. White collar, middle class people who move to Bombay get no blame. They are, we must assume with Raj Thackeray, "decent people."
Thing is too, the image of a flood of filthy immigrants is one of those great middle-class myths, cherished and trotted out regularly. "They are illegal encroachers," I've heard people say of slum dwellers, "they breed like rabbits." Thackeray told Mid-Day: "These people don't pay electricity bills, don't pay water tax, they don't pay rent!" And one memorable time, a friend offered this: "They only come here to make money! I don't approve of that at all!"
I suppose "decent people" come here only to fly kites, or roll in the surf at Chowpatty.
For what it's worth: Immigration into Bombay forms a small and decreasing fraction of the city's population growth. Far greater is the contribution from natural causes. Births. So if Bombay seems overcrowded, the fault is overwhelmingly that of its own fertile, fecund residents.
That's Joshi and D'Souza, Thackeray and Srinivasan. Not unwashed Ramdulari or Abdul or Kuruvamma struggling off the Pushpak Express at Dadar station.