August 11, 2005

Not Kuruvamma

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.


Anonymous said...

A significant chunk of migrants into the city are the white-collared ones. That includes the B-School graduates picked from the campuses by the MNC's, the much-in-demand Bong journalists, the aspiring artist/film-maker types; each add to the strain to the city's crumbling resources.

Sunil said...

When migration into a city stops being a city.

And unfortunatley, the loudest voice is heard best, so people are just going to listen to Thakeray.It's a shame.....

A lot of the so called "middle class/decent people" are migrants mooching on the system. And if they have a right to be in Mumbai, so does any one else. And no one lives in a slum because its the "place to be in"'s because there's no other choice. But its too bad people will believe only what's convenient to believe, and what absolves them of any blame what so ever (ref. your post above this one).

Annie Zaidi said...

Thanks for this ammo, Dilip. Now, I won't lose all those arguments I've been having, about this 'slum/migrant=strain-on-the-city' issue. :)

Anonymous said...

The most surprising part is how Newsweek published this without verifying the facts (inflated the figures too). Are Newsweek correspondents using Saamna and Marmik as reference material

Neela said...


Your facts are startling.

But unfortunately, this migrant numbers thing is used not only by the Shiv Sena and middle class but also by other journalists. Take Lila Rajiva (the report you linked to in the Bombay First Post): " In 1993 there was one bus a week taking migrant workers from a depot in Andhra Pradesh to Mumbai. Today there are 34."

34 buses seems to like a lot of people - assuming 50 people in a bus, that's 1700 people from AP only. So now I am confused. How do you reconcile these figures?


Neela said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tanuj said...

d, somehow your numbers don't add up. allow me to add some more numbers to this discussion.

i did some search on the web, and found these numbers:

mumbai population (probably urban agglomeration): 10M
slum population: 34%

mumbai population: 17.7M
slum population: 48% to 55% (from various sources)

the only mathematically correct way this can happen is that:
- slum population grew by anywhere between 4.7% to 5.4%
- non-slum population grew between 0.9% and 1.7%

i.e., slum population growth is 3 to 5 times the non-slum population growth.

given that very few people (per this post) migrated into the city, this can only mean:
1. people moved from flats to slums: not very probable, you will agree
2. slum dwellers (Ramdulari or Abdul or Kuruvamma) actually reproduced much faster than others (Joshi or D'Souza)
3. or - exhausting options here - more people actually came in than was recorded by CRD or whoever.

dilip, i have nothing against people having 10 kids or migrating into the city. it's their personal choice, and i respect that.

however, numbers show that the allegations that anger you cannot ALL be wrong at the same time. either slum dwellers reproduce much faster or migration is higher - one of these, or a combination, must be true.

having said that, am happy to be proved wrong if you find more robust numbers.

finally, one murmur of protest: please do not automatically label all the thackeray quotes as cherished middle class myths.


Some sources for numbers:

Dilip D'Souza said...

Neela: 34 buses seems to like a lot of people - assuming 50 people in a bus, that's 1700 people from AP only. So now I am confused. How do you reconcile these figures?

Off the top of my head, not too hard. 1700 per week, about 250 a day. Te figures I have mentioned are "net" migration: meaning inflow minus outflow.

Incidentally (also in ref to Tanuj), it's not just politicians and Thackeray types. I get the 300 families figure quoted to me all the time, by ordinary folks like me. Most recently, by a software guy at Crossword bookstore three days ago.

Also, if you want people to be slammed, you can do it too. Don't leave it all to me.

Tanuj, what I tried to show is that migration has been coming down (as a percentage of growth) for years. Natural growth now contributes much more to the city's growth. That said, I think it is quite likely that a majority of that natural growth happens among slumdwellers. But "breed like rabbits" is somewhat extreme. My opinion.

Tanuj said...

agree with you - "breed like rabbits" is indeed extreme.

Neela said...


Yes I know - my mistake. I thought I had posted an update : obviously I hadn't.

The figures Sainath mentions in his article ( are:

40 buses from the Mahbubnagar - Mumbai route (in AP) per week each bus carrying 100 plus passengers per bus, which gives us 115 families per day from this route itself. This does not include as Sainath says those arriving on trains.

Extrapolating to other states, that could be close to (or even surpass) the 300-400 figures that are bandied about.

The "net migration" could certainly be an explanation. Sainath also says "most of them go back again.. only to move out again". So it would depend when this counting took place. Lila Rajiva says nothing (at least from my reading of the article) about going back.

Perhaps "slammed" seems too strong a word. But part of this migration myth has been spread not only by politicians but also by so-called responsible, serious journalists who deserve our brickbats, don't you think?


Anonymous said...

Tanuj, the problem with your analysis is that you are pulling figures from disparate sources. No one quite agrees what constitutes the urban agglomeration. If you can produce the figures from a single source with precisely defined city limits it would be worth more analysis

Neela said...

Anonymous, are you proposing that the slum % will fall if there is a different definition of urban agglomeration? I don't see how else getting a single source of data will strengthen the analysis unless it significantly changes the numbers that Tanuj mentions. Which of the 4 numbers do you not agree with? (10 mio, 17.7 mio, 34%, 48-55%).


Tanuj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dilip D'Souza said...

May I ask that if you want to argue here, you keep it civil?

Tanuj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Well said by Tanuj, from research it has been proved that the reproduction rate increases with the insecurity of the people. This can be seen from the data given about slums in mumbai.In mumbai most of the slums consists of immigrants, so evidently these immigrants are the ones who are causing probs in Mumbai.

Anonymous said...

Hello!!! is one of the best informational websites of its kind. I take advantage of reading it every day. Keep it that way.