August 2006

Migration Information Centre (MIC) for Rurals

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Migration information centres (MIC) have increasingly become an integral part of the rural migrants in search of livelihood and therefore, have the potential to render converged
e-Government services.

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has demonstrated the way for doing things productively and its benefits are well discoursed. In order for leveraging the full potential of the ICT, one of the most but critical needs is to identify and provide the right type of services to the users. In the context of development paradigm, in India, these users are mostly referred to the rural citizens. This class of citizens is cited to be around 70 percent of total population in the subcontinent whose priorities have been to look for sustainable livelihood options. Governments' effort to support this complex issue though noteworthy, are increasingly being focused on e-Governance and e-Government initiatives with the objective to facilitate the information sharing and information use among this section of the society. National e-Governance plan with an expected outlay of INR1200 crores to support this cause is probably an indication in this direction. Scaling up strategy for identified successful models is being seriously contemplated through this plan. However, it is an agreed fact that ICT interventions will be successful if the end users are sure of availing expected services and this is possible if the services are rightly identified for their benefit. A model therefore, needs to meet this criterion for scaling up. In this article, we have shown how migration is an unavoidable option for rural citizens to support their livelihoods and how a simple ICT application through migration information centre could aid this process. Migration Information Centres (MIC) have increasingly become an integral part of these migrants and therefore, have the potential to render converged e-Government services.

Livelihoods and migration
The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development put sustainable development firmly on the international agenda and it could be considered as starting of the livelihood focus in development cooperation. In the same year Chambers and Conway published a paper, stating that analysis of rural production, employment and income up to date do not take into account the complex realities of rural life. Subsequently, the previous emphasis on technologies, resources and organisations shifted to a focus on rural households and their various functionalities. The central focus is on people and their needs and perceptions. A great deal of research on rural livelihood systems and possible interventions by development organisations has been done in the past few years. Development agencies such as DFID, UNDP, ODI, CARE, Oxfam and many others all developed their own methods and approaches in designing livelihood interventions.

Sustainable livelihoods
A sustainable livelihood is a way of thinking about the objectives, scope and priorities for development in order to enhance progress in poverty elimination. Sustainable livelihoods approaches rest on core principles that the activities should be people-centred, responsive and participatory and conducted in partnership with both the public and the private sectors, including civil society/non-governmental organisations. The sustainable livelihoods approaches draw on the changing views of poverty. In particular, participatory approaches to development have highlighted great diversity in the goals to which people aspire and in the livelihood strategies they adopt to achieve them. Poverty analysis has highlighted the importance of assets, including social capital, in determining well-being. The importance of the policy framework and governance, which has dominated much development thinking since the early 1980s, are also reflected in sustainable livelihoods, as is a core focus on the community. Community-level institutions and processes have been a prominent feature of approaches to natural resource management and are strongly emphasised in sustainable livelihoods approaches, though the stress is on understanding and facilitating the link through from the micro to the macro, rather than working only at community level.

A livelihood intervention is a conscious effort by an agency or an organisation to promote and support livelihood opportunities, usually for a large number of people. Livelihood intervention is more than income enhancement. It is about increasing economic power of the people. It is facilitating asset creation, capacity building, and access to opportunities. It is building securities. It is confidence to venture into new areas/take risks. In short, livelihood interventions aim at reducing their vulnerabilities and promote livelihood security.

Food and livelihood security
Food and livelihood security are two important aspects of peoples' livelihoods and they have to be understood from the peoples' perspective as they determine their decision-making behaviour. These determine technology adoption, peoples' participation in community based organisations, health and educational programmes, etc. Food security is a subjective concept; defined by an individual's own perception as to whether he/she has been able to support the family's food and fodder requirements for a year from all resources he/she owns controls and manages.

The single expression like food sums up, in symbolic way, the totality of peoples' livelihoods. It is but one indication of the plight of the rural people whose predominant preoccupation is to provide food for the family – 365 days a year! If food is the symbolic expression for their struggle for livelihood, then the security is the assurance, that the system will assure food. For most households, the food produced on their land does not feed the family for the entire year. The magnitude of food shortage varies from family to family in a given year and from year to year for a given family. In addition, there are significant expenditures to meet the social and cultural obligations. Thus, livelihood security is multidimensional that encompasses food and nutritional security, financial security, social, and cultural security, emotional security, among others.

In the absence of adequate food for the family and to meet the socio-cultural expenditures, household members are forced to go on migration to urban areas. Today, for tribal households, migration has become a way of life – a livelihood strategy of its own. A successful livelihood intervention, therefore, has to take migration into account. Since these groups are among the most vulnerable, an attempt to fully grasp their livelihood realities would be useful.

ICT and livelihood security
Very often the state of rural infrastructure in general and ICT infrastructure in particular has received attention from view points of the policy makers as well implementers. In India, ICT interventions are still evolving. Many pilot projects are experimented in isolation and scaling up strategy is being formulated. Unlike other general purpose technology such as agriculture, energy, transport, etc., support for accepting ICT as a technology is needed from all stakeholders especially government and people. Mere provision of hardware, software components does not help the rural population to draw benefits from this technology, but a systematic and convergent approach of policy makers, business drivers would be necessary for its use. It is not necessary to adopt a very high-end ICT infrastructure to support but needs an optimised approach to select, develop and implement the technology, its components and allow the rural citizens to use the technology as needed. Potential of ICT infrastructure use lies in rightly identifying the need of rural citizens and their social fabric. 

A holistic approach is necessary to address this critical issue of migration. It may not be feasible to stop the migration entirely because of its critical support to the socio-economic structure of the rural citizens. It would rather be feasible to look for the opportunities where ICT as an infrastructure could facilitate migrants in terms of establishing a mechanism to provide information and communication services.  

MIC: A case of gainful use of ICT options
Dahod district in Gujarat State is inhabited predominantly by the tribal population. Agriculture is their main source of their livelihoods. Majority of the farmers belong to the small and marginal category. The average land holding is 2.12 acres per household, which is extremely low considering the food requirement of a household. Nearly all farmers grow a single crop of maize during Kharif season. The rains are inadequate in two out of five years leading to food insecurity. With increasing population pressure on land and land degradation over time, it has not been able to provide food and livelihood security to rural households. Whatever food they produce, feeds the family for 8-9 months of the year.

During a participatory appraisal exercises conducted by the Gramin Vikas Trust, an NGO, it was evident that migrants faced many hardships including humiliation and loss of self esteem. Further investigations with the people revealed that for majority of the poor who migrate in distress, there is very little assurance of employment for they are unskilled workers. They undergo interim periods of unemployment during their stay in the urban areas, which deplete their meagre savings.

The poor migrants are also perceived as thieves in the urban areas and so are they are unnecessarily harassed by the police and others. Frequently the migrants are cheated at the worksite by contractors and where they suffer losses of wages due to the lack of awareness of legal recourse, mechanisms of redress and lack of documents of the work in which they were engaged. Migrants lack knowledge about travel routes, modes of travel, timings and other details of transportation increasing their cost in terms of time, money, and effort. The migrants do not have risk compensating mechanisms like insurance and therefore they are deprived of the benefits in case of an accident.

Village Jadha
It is in this context, GVT conducted a study and found the income through migration constitute 65 percent of the households in Jadha village in Dahod district. A group of 22 migrants came forward to support idea of GVT to form a 'mahamandal' (federation) to address their problems. In consultation with the people and mahamandal, GVT envisaged the formation of Migration Information Centre (MIC – locally known as Palayana Suchana Kendras). GVT provided support for housing and operating the centre.

Telephony – The Link: Jadha village is poorly connected by road and is situated in hilly terrain. GVT therefore, had a challenge to establish a telephone link for the MIC. The land line option was ruled out because of the topography and wireless in local loop (WLL) was procured for the purpose.   






Results of MIC: The MIC in Jadha started in the year 2000 and its effect mentioned in the tables on the Jadha households is noteworthy.



It is noted that total amount of benefits due to wage negotiations to the migrants is Rs. 3,80,000 as on date

Opportunity ahead
This MIC was introduced and supported by GVT on a pilot basis to understand the effects and its scope for replication. Today it has spread to nearby 10 villages with high success rate. The success has been noticed by the government of Gujarat and these MICs are now being transformed to cluster resource centres (CRC). Various e-Government applications such as 'e-Gram' are planned for providing support to the villagers through these CRCs.   

Conclusion
MICs have brought in many tangible and socio-economic supports to the prospects of livelihood security of the village. Some of these are in terms of reduction in cost of migration, better communication, better net working, better employment opportunities, providing emotional, food, financial and social security, resolving conflict with contractors and bringing in overall livelihood security. This case describes the benefit of a demand-driven model through which a critical issue like migration could be negotiated and a simple ICT option (WLL connectivity) could provide a better opportunity to the migrants. It also described how the support structure could be related to the e-Government opportunities that national e-Governance plan extends. While a supply-driven service through e-Government can be made operational because of the obvious support structure provided by the government and various funding agencies, it is imperative for the policy makers to extensively make use of participatory rural appraisal techniques to understand and prioritise the demands of rural citizens to augment their own livelihood security through a rightly sized ICT architecture.

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