Favorable terms on diasporic investments can potentially inject the state economy with renewed vigour: Prof. S. Irudaya Rajan


A policy agenda attentive to diaspora and return emigrant needs will enable skilled and resourceful Indians to employ their entrepreneurial talents within the country, says Prof. S. Irudaya Rajan, an internationally acclaimed scholar on migration and Chair Professor, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) to Dr. Smita Tiwari of GRFDT in an interview.


Dr. Smita Tiwari: Congratulation Prof. Rajan for launching a new journal on Migration and Development. This is a long overdue for an institution like CDS which is engaged on the issue for several decades. What are the major thrusts of this new journal? What is the vision behind launching this journal and who are the readers it is catering to?

Prof. Rajan: Thank you. You are right. I joined CDS in 1987 and many professors like late Professor T N Krishan and I S Gulati made significant contributions towards advancing the importance of migration issues and recognizing the impact of remittances on the state economy.  Migration studies at CDS took off in a big way, when Zachariah and myself initiated the first Kerala Migration Survey in 1998, the first ever large scale survey conducted in any state in India. The 1998 survey was very well received and it marked a turning point, not only in our careers but also established CDS as an institution in India where rich research on international migration is also conducted.

When I took the position as Chair Professor of the Research Unit on International Migration, I envisioned taking the RUIM beyond its label as a think tank on migration for Government of India but also as a key player in research circles in the global arena. In this context, I had two dreams. The first was to initiate the ‘India Migration Report’ annually and I am happy to inform you that the IMR annual series has been going strong since 2010 and the fourth one, IMR 2013 focussing on social cost of migration was released in the 11th Pravasi Bharati Divas in Cochin by Mr Vayalar Ravi, Union Minister, MOIA and I am working on the fifth one with on the theme, Diaspora and Development.

My second dream was to start a global journal called, Migration and Development to disseminate new and high-impact migration scholarship. This dream has also come to fruition when we launched the new journal in 2012. The readership is global and it has been beneficial to students, researchers and policy makers alike.

Migration has been a historically important livelihood strategy for people across the world. The nexus of migration and development neccessitates further inquiry and examination to strengthen the transformational potential of migration. The aim of the journal is to examine, critique and analyse various facets of internal and international migration beyond the conventional lines such as borderless migration, refugees, social costs, return migration, labour laws, policy changes and the implications of all of them for both the sending and receiving countries.

Dr. Smita Tiwari: You have been working on migration and development issues and contributed a lot to the scholarships. As we know migration is a natural feature of any known human civilization since ages, however, the characteristics have been changing since 1990s with the new communication and technological development. The globe is now more interconnected and time and space does not make much difference. In this background, how do you think international migration (diaspora) will impact on the development of a home country in next 20 years? Specifically how it will influence the developing countries? What policy measures are most warranted keeping in view the development of ICT?

Prof. Rajan: India is a global village and Indians are spread across the globe. As it stands, they contribute more to their host country than their country of origin. Today, we are witnessing higher levels of socio-economic integration and political mainstreaming of overseas Indians in destination countries.  You raised a pertinent issue regarding the importance and potential of overseas workforce and diaspora engagement for the home country. We have Indian workers who leave their families, in particular, their wives, children and elderly parents, just to improve their economic conditions at home. For instance, about 90 per cent of Kerala migrants work in the Gulf and there exists no citizenship and they continue to work as contractual workers and at the end of their working life, they return home. Kerala is home to about one million return emigrants as per the fifth KMS carried out in 2011. Do we have any policy to utilize this vast and experienced human resources? Absolutely no.

Earlier, International Migration marked a separation from one’s home country , but with the advent of technological innovations, this has evolved to Transnational migration processes where people maintain relationships with their home communities throughtout their migratory journey. Diasporas, people of Indian origin and overseas citizens of India have the potential to be significant players in the Indian growth story. In 2006, India became one of the few countries to create a cabinet level Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA). The successful and seamless integration of diasporas into India’s development requires further inter-ministerial collaboration.

Due to the recent the global crisis, India witnessed “brain-gain” in the form of return of high skilled professionals in several sectors to the Indian economy. Policy makers have to make every attempt to optimize these return labour flows to take advantage of knowledge and experiential value additions.

Dr. Smita Tiwari:  What is your opinion on the role of Malayali diaspora in Kerala? What visible changes they have made to the Kerala and what potential they have to contribute which hitherto not being tapped?

Prof. Rajan: In my opinion, we have not yet utilised the Malayali diasporas in its full potential. Kerala has a vibrant diasporic presence in several countries.  They could have made vital contributions to Kerala’s development but their resources and skills have not been properly channelized. Nevertheless, remmittance transfers from overseas workers have boosted the economy. Of course, if someone travels from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargode by road, we can see the visible changes in its landscape thanks to the Malayalis abroad. Today, Kerala has about 2 million migrants and they remit about Rs.60000 crores which is equivalent to 31 per cent of the state domestic product.  The deep potential that the Kerala diaspora offers for state development cannot be ignored, because of their size, as well as economic and political status in host countries. The diaspora , if channeled productively, can be game changers in Kerala’s development path. Already we see return migrants as M.L.A.’s, ensuring that Non resident keralite concerns are also given equal consideration in the state policy agenda. NORKA has made seminal contributions towards analysing and utilising the NRK potential.

Dr. Smita Tiwari: One of the most important factors affecting the policy on diaspora, international migration or engaging the professional diaspora is related to the data sources. Availability of database is very important for research as well as policy formulation. Being a coordinator of several major migration surveys, what is your experience in terms of difficulties in conducting research on international migration? What suggestion you would like to give regarding the preparation of data sources?

Prof. Rajan: Migration is a critical aspect of India’s economic emergence. Nevertheless, research and databases on dynamics of migration is not readily available. To fill this gap, CDS initiated the Kerala Migration Survey as early as 1998 and we have also extended it to Goa, Punjab, and Gujarat. We are in the process of initiating state-wise surveys in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and the most populous state Uttar Pradesh.

The most apparent barrier to generating such surveys is the extensive capital required to cover large sample groups. Unlike fertility, mortality, marriage and other social indicators, migration is not such a common occurrence. Therefore the number of households under survey needs to be increased.

However, I would be very happy to coordinate a comprehensive India Migration Survey under the umbrella  of the RUIM with the special support of the MOIA, respective state governments and the possible financial support of international institutions like the ILO, IOM, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, WHO,UNDP and IRDC. I dream of an extensive nation-wide survey on migration that will consider all aspects of Indian migration.

As long as we receive upwards of 60 Billion in remittances, the Indian government is obliged to take care of concerns of the overseas Indians. What better way to give back to them than by understanding them better!

Dr. Smita Tiwari: India has been the largest receiver of remittances in the world. But unfortunately, there is not much effort by any government and non-government agencies to utilise these financial capital for the development. Kerala, of course much better as compared to other states of India, but is no exception when we consider overall potential. Countries like Philippines, South Asian countries such as Bangladesh often considered achieving better results than India. Do you think this staggering $ 60 billion that India receives can be better planned for more long term development?

Prof. Rajan: Kerala is leading the way in recognising the importance of its overseas workforce and unleashing the potential of remmittances for development. While there is a long way to go, I believe Kerala has been making strides in progressive and productive utilisation of remmittance receipts. The first Kerala Migration survey conducted in 1998 unearthed socio-economic and demographic consequences of migration. We repeated the KMS in 2003, after five years of the first KMS followed by annual migration surveys in 2007, 2008 and 2010. The next round of the survey has been slated for 2013. Remittances sent by international migrants were as much as a third (31 percent) of Kerala's Net State Domestic Product. Over the past decade remittances coming to Kerala have increased by upto 254%. In light of this extraordinary contribution, institutional efforts to increase engagment with overseas Keralities must be strengthened.

Dr. Smita Tiwari: Being a Chair Professor in the MOIA (Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs), how would you evaluate India’s diaspora policy? What are the most important contributions made by the public policy institutions in engaging the diaspora? What are the areas India needs to focus in the future?

Prof. Rajan: India’s diaspora policy, I would say, is still in the nascent stage. While efforts have been made to tap the potential of overseas Indians, a lot remains to be done. State and regional efforts have to be strengthened along with a cohesive national policy on diaspora.

Some recent milestones in the recognition of migrant contributions to the Indian economy and society are as follows: (a) Constituting a High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora to review the status of persons of Indian Origin (POI) and Non-Resident Indians (NRI) on 18 August 2000. (b) Organizing annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas since 2003 to bring Global Indians to one platform and (c) Establishment of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in 2004 by the Government of India. MOIA serves as the nodal point for diaspora engagement, investment, business partnerships, academic exchanges, heritage exploration, and philanthropy between India and its diaspora.

Dr. Smita Tiwari: One of the major issues of developing countries is related to entrepreneurship development. India still has to go a long way to create an environment for entrepreneurship as the political, social and economic factors hinders these to a great extent. Many prospective entrepreneurs who could have played greater role post liberalisation rather find enormous difficulties at home and flourish when they migrate abroad. Do you think the diaspora policy can address this issue?

Prof. Rajan: Yes.  As of now, bureaucratic and operational bottlenecks discourage Indians from doing business in their homeland. A policy agenda attentive to diaspora and return emigrant needs will enable skilled and resourceful Indians to employ their entrepreneurial talents within the country. Furthermore, favorable terms on diasporic investments can potentially inject the state economy with renewed vigour.

Dr. Smita Tiwari:  Any other important issue you would like to highlight?

Prof. Rajan: The social costs associated with international migration necessitate greater attention in upcoming years. A human rights framework to migration policies is required to extend national protection to valuable overseas workforce.  Social effects include changes in family structure, composition and gender roles in the origin communities. The migration of a family member has implications on the health and education outcomes of family left behind, as well as on the relationship with spouse, children and elderly. Health risks and vulnarabilities are also exacerbated with international migration. This ‘human dimension’ of migration is a vital future direction for policy-relevant research.

Dr. Smita Tiwari: Thank you Prof. Rajan for contributing brilliant ideas and giving your precious time. 

Prof. S. Irudaya Rajan is an internationally acclaimed scholar on migration. Presently he is Chair Professor, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), Research Unit on International Migration at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He has published extensively in national and international journals on social, economic and demographic implications on international migration. He had projects on international migration with European Commission, International Labour Organization, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, International Organization of Migration, United Nations Fund for Population Activities, Migrant Forum in Asia and Rockefeller Foundation. He is also member of the National Migration Policy drafting group appointed by the MOIA. He is editor of the Annual Series India Migration Report brought out by Routledge. He is also editor-in-Chief of the Routledge Journal, Migration and Development launched in 2012.


Interview Date:   Monday, Jan 14, 2013
Person Name:   Prof. Irudaya Rajan

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