Migrant Problem in Punjab
Dr Gurmit Singh
Internal migration to Punjab from rest of India, particularly of weaker sections of society is rising at an alarming rate. The reason for the same is not difficult to trace. Punjab is considered to be economically prosperous state. Punjab is mainly an agricultural state. Its economy is mainly dependent on agriculture. It requires a large number of migrant labour during the sowing and harvesting seasons. This is an old phenomenon, which has been prevalent in Punjab since the time of the first census conducted by the British Rule after annexation of Punjab. After independence in 1947, this internal migration is being encouraged by the majority community i.e. Hindus to balance the Sikh population in Punjab, which is the only Sikh majority State in India which claimed a sovereign status when the British rulers were leaving India. An effort in that direction had started in 1947 itself when the Constitution of India was being framed after the British had left India. Inspite of opposition from the Sikh members of the Constituent Assembly Article 25 was passed by the Constituent Assembly and incorporated in the Constitution of India. The Sikh members had objected to Explanation II of Art 25, which treated them as Hindus. This explanation reads as under:-
Article 25 Explanation II
In Sub-clause (b) of clause (2) “The reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Budhist religion and the ‘reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.”
Sikhs have been continuously protesting against above provision in the Constitution, even the Home Minister of India in a statement in Parliament had promised to amend the above provision after consulting experts and even the Constitutional Review Commission had recommended so.
In all the censuses conducted after independence from the British rule in violation of Article 25, Explanation II of the Constitution, there are separate columns for recording the population of Sikhs, Budhists, Jains and others. The figures in census are manipulated to suit the interests of the majority community. The fact is that population of Sikhs is gradually declining. As against the national average of 15.9 percent of the Child Population of Sikhs in the age group 0-6 years is 12.8 per cent. Explanation added in the census report states:-
“Low fertility among the. Sikh population can be gauged by the fact that in twenty one states and union territories have child population proportion below 12 per cent among Sikhs of these nine states have less than ten percent child population.”
The actual reason of the low fertility among the Sikh population is the policy of the government, Recently Muslims of Uttar Pardesh constituted a committee of scientists to find reasons for the decline of fertility amongst the Muslims. The report of the committee was startling. It revealed that the reason for declining fertility rate amongst the Muslims was the policy of the government to populrise the Polio Drops. In Punjab too Polio Drops “Camps are frequently organized and it is reducing the fertility of the Sikh population.
The next question that needs serious consideration is how to make up this decline. One important method is conversion of migrations to Sikhism but the Sikh ‘institutions like S.G.P.C. and Sikh missionaries have failed to rise to the occasion. The other way as suggested by the Registrar General cum census Commissioner India during the British rule in the first census Report is, that migrant population should be culturally converted as a first preliminary step, so that as a next step, religious conversion becomes possible. For this the village population can playa major role, because the migrants who settle in villages are first culturally converted and then absorbed as locals.
Further, Punjab Assembly should pass a legislation to regulate the internal migration which should provide that no one will he enrolled as a voter who does not own property in the State of Punjab and has not permanently resided in the State continuously for period of ten years before the cut of date fixed in the Act.
Article 19(d) of the constitution of India which guarantees the right to move freely through out the territory of India, in Article 19 (5) clearly provides that
Nothing in Sub-clause (d) (e) of the said clause shall prevent the State from making any law imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of any of the rights conferred by the said sub-clauses either in the interests of the general public or’ for the protection of the interests of Schedule Tribe.”
It is worth mentioning here that Article 19 (d) only guarantees the freedom of movement and not the freedom of ‘residence although it is being misquoted as freedom of residence on the basis of ruling of the Supreme Court in the case of State of U.P. Versus Kaushalya reported in A.I.R. 1964 S.C. 416 in some books. The freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India is covered by Article 19 (e), which guarantees right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India. But as mentioned earlier ‘clause (5) of Article 19 allows the States to make law imposing reasonable restrictions in the interest of the general public.
It may further be pointed out that many of migrants are involved in criminal activity in Punjab. Therefore imposing of such restrictions will be in the interest of general public. Moreover, there is reservation for schedule caste upto 50 per cent, and as most of the migrants are, schedule caste it denies opportunity to local residents to avail the privilege.
I remember an incident. There was a school in my neighbourhood next to my residence some years back. One day, a few peons of that school came to me together. They said that they had been challenged for stealing tubewell material from the field in Uttar Pardesh, but they were released on bail by court, but they had jumped bail and migrated to Mohali, but now the court had issued non-bailable warrants against them. What should they do? I advised them to surrender and apply for fresh bail. There are many such cases. The proposed act can provide that no one would be allowed to stay in an area without the permission of the Deputy Commissioner who should check the antecedents of every migrant. Such a restriction exists in some areas and has been held to be a reasonable restriction by the Assam High Court in A.I.R. 1953 Assam 61 in the case of border areas adjoining Nepal.
The problem of internal migration in Punjab is becoming acute day by day and must be regulated forthwith; otherwise it may become too late to handle. Punjab is the land of the Sikh Gurus and the change of its complexion must be stopped. In this context I am reminded of an incident. Usually in the evening I have a round of Sector 17 Chandigarh. One day I saw a girl being beaten by another girl elder to her. The younger girl was crying and seeking help. I intervened and asked the younger one why the elder girl was beating her. She told me that she was brought from Uttar Pardesh by someone whom she does not recognize. She has to beg and earn at least Rs 50 everyday. In case she is unable to do so, she does not get food at night and is beaten up by elderly girls. Such cases are common in Punjab. Outside migrants are brought to Punjab and employed to act as vendors on pavements with the connivance of the government. The employer collects the sale proceeds from the vendor everyday in the evening. Some others are employed as rickshaw pullers and are accommodated in “Rain Baseras” (dwelling houses) run by the government as social welfare schemes and others are accommodated in Jhugis (huts) on government land by making encroachments. Later on, when the land on which they have encroached is acquired, they get alternative, built-up, residential accommodation on nominal installments. When government encourages such violations, God save Punjab! Already in Ludhiana there are three elected migrant Municipal Commissioners. The days is not far off when these migrants will rule Punjab.