Is Kerala’s five-decade-long Gulf-money party over? The state government has commissioned the migration wing of the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) to examine the latest shifts in migration patterns, in the context of a slowdown in the rate of growth of Rs 154,252-crore NRI deposits in the state. State policymakers have been on their toes since the last survey in 2016 revealed that the number of Gulf emigrants has fallen by 1.6 lakh, and they are on edge as the new survey, KMS@20 (Kerala Migration Survey), is rolled out this week. “We have no intention to trigger any scare that there is a huge wave of return migration from the Gulf,” says S Irudayarajan, who steers the KMS@20 at CDS. “The conclusions will be strictly based on the field data and earliest gleanings can be made by about April 2018,” he told FE. Researchers, though, are prepared for a bleak picture, given the previous year’s data. The study would shed light on the long-term impact of the global financial crisis of 2009, the fall in petro-prices and the slew of Arabisation policies in the Gulf labour market. For Kerala, which is working on a jumbo infrastructure push by harnessing the NRI send-homes, the shift in migration pattern could be a key gamechanger. Kerala has over 20 lakh of its diaspora spread out in West Asia, the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK and African countries, but nearly 90% of those sending home remittances are in the Gulf.
Kerala finance minister TM Thomas Isaac says that the stet’s Gulf remittances are yet to fall. Remittances account for 36.3% of Kerala’s gross state domestic product (GSDP). At the same time there’s a definite trend of cautiousness in the spending patterns of households of Gulf workers, says Isaac. According to the State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC) cell of Canara Bank in Thiruvananthapuram, there is marked slowdown in the growth of NRI deposits across 6,339 branches of banks (commercial, scheduled and private) in Kerala. From Rs 117,349 crore in June 2015, NRI deposits surged to Rs 142,668 crore in June 2016. However, there was only a nominal growth in the next year, barely touching Rs 154,252 crore in June 2017. Unlike the migration studies that hinge on the data of arrivals and departures at key airports, KMS is driven by data collected from households. In Kerala, there is a saying that there is almost no household in the sate that has no relative working abroad.
The new shifts in the migration pattern could also gravely impact the country’s sale of white goods, as Kerala is one of the top markets for the latest TVs, cars and phones. The fall in Gulf emigrants is a strange experience for markets in recent times. In 1998, Kerala had 1.36 million emigrants. In 2003, the number rose to 1.83 million. In 2008, 2011 and 2014, the counts were 2.19 million, 2.28 million and 2.4 million, respectively. Given the steady uptrend, demographers took note when the number dropped to 2.24 million for the first time in 2016. There are apprehensions that this trend will continue. KMS@20 will collect detailed information from 25,000 households across 14 districts, says Irudayarajan, who is also a former demography researcher at the United Nations Development Programme. Since the credibility rating of KMS data and methodology have been high since Kerala took this plunge in 1998, emigrant-intensive states like Gujarat, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Goa have followed suit with similar migration studies in recent times.