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Sandeep Bamzai

Sandeep Bamzai is a media professional of standing and repute having held editorial leadership positions right through his 32 year career. Visiting Fellow at think tank ORF, he is currently writing a book for Harper Collins on the Role of the Indian Pri

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Disequilibrium | Prepare For The March Of Civilisation

Rampant urbanisation and unceasing waves of mass migration are putting enormous pressure on already creaking civic infrastructure in urban agglomerates. Ignoring this dangerous trendily is being done at our own peril

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Mumbai, Uttarakhand, Kashmir and now Chennai. Rampant urbanisation and unceasing waves of mass migration are putting enormous pressure on already creaking civic infrastructure in urban agglomerates. Ignoring this dangerous trendily is being done at our own peril. Images from the flooding and its trauma and devastation remain embedded in our memory recesses, but we prefer to lurch from one crisis to another. Water bodies are being destroyed, forest denuded and water tables are lowering with the passage of each day. The daily rural to urban migration has been a continuous process, but its real birthing took place around the same time as the unfettering of the Indian economy. You don't need to be induced with truth serum to understand the deleterious impact of this internal migration. Population mobility of unskilled and semi skilled labour is making life that much more difficult for urban centres which are decaying rapidly. Not only does capital chase economic development, but migration too chases economic development and social upliftment and transformation.

The trend of civilisations is inexorably upward with no halts or half measures.

After the disappointments of the lost decade – between 2004 and 2014 – India one imagined was once again poised to leap, adrenalised by a new dispensation at the centre. A regime which one thought was focused on revitalising the economy with measures that would uplift the poor and downtrodden, even as it took the burgeoning middle class to the next level. Manufacturing is at the kernel of an emergent economy but its share in India's GDP basket is a paltry 14.9 per cent and what's worse is India's share of exports in the world is an abysmal two per cent. With India's internal and external economies under the cosh, there has been no real uptick in consumption and the slide in exports continues unchecked. Modi's clarion call to make India, a big export hub by manufacturing auto components, agricultural products, leather products, textiles, gems & jewellery and machinery products is contingent upon many things, ease of doing business and providing the right environment. No empirical evidence of a breakthrough benefit accruing to India is yet to emerge on this front. This can be the only catalyst to counter the mass migration and urbanisation taking place. The PM wants to 'channelise the strength of the youth' through manufacturing. Previous governments have had ambitious targets of increasing the share of manufacturing in India's GDP to 25 per cent from the current 15 per cent level. However, this vision has remained a pipe dream. This can change with a focused policy approach. A focus on manufacturing would help create employment. But manufacturing requires land and the law cannot be changed because of the tyranny of numbers in the Rajya Sabha. As India gets caught in a vicious cycle, it can't decide whether the chicken or the egg comes first. Building a robust manufacturing base even at this late date is the only answer to our problems. Tinkering with smart city slogans won't help, investment elixir will.

A Princeton paper reveals that a steady increase in internal migration has been witnessed in the post reform era from 24.8 percent in 1993 to 28.5 percent in 2007/08. The same study across the gender divide shows a decline in male migration which is explained as, "One possibility for decline in male migration could be due to employment generated through National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in village level itself reduces rural to rural flow which in turn influence overall rural male migration. On the other hand studies shows that there occurs fall in rural employment in spite of implementation of NREGA. Therefore, another reason for deceleration in male migration can be explained in terms of the jobless growth of Indian economy . Further, a question arises why migration scenario is different in two periods of jobless growth that is 1993-00 (growth rate of employment is less than 1per cent) and 2000-08 (growth rate of employment is 0.17per cent). It is not plausible that jobless growth could be the exclusive reason rather it may partly explain the phenomenon." Another significant revelation is that, "it is expected that with generation of employment opportunities in urban areas, migration from rural areas continuously increases. The NSS estimates (used for the study) shows that more than half (56per cent) migration in the rural to urban flow is due to employment and there occurs an increase in salaried/wage earning class over the period from 28 percent in 1999/00 to 32 percent in 2007/08 which is declining in other types of employment."

Another emergent economic theorem from the same Princeton study is that rural labour migrates to industrialised states and towns, "It is found that net migration rate is positive in developed states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Haryana and Punjab indicating inflow of people to these states. This can be explained in terms of industrialization, availability of employment and social development of the states. On the contrary due to large concentration of population, inequality and poverty etc. states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan and north-eastern states supplies large number of migrants to economically developed state like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Delhi." Ram B Bhagat, International Institute for Population Sciences in his background paper - Urban Migration trends - challenges and Opportunities in India, December, 2014 says, "India could be categorised as a country with a low level of urbanisation as officially 31 per cent of the population lived in urban areas as per 2011 Census. The estimated level of urbanisation for the year 2014 was 32 per cent of the population compared to 54 per cent at the global level. The rate of India’s urbanisation, that is the annual per cent change in the proportion of the urban population, is higher (1.1%) than the global average (0.9%) (UN DESA, 2014). This shows that India has been urbanising faster, like most countries in Asia and Africa, and its urban population is likely to grow from 410 million in 2014 to 814 million in 2050 with 50 per cent living in urban areas. However, paradoxically, India will also be a country with the largest rural population of about 805 million by 2050. So, while urbanisation will be faster, the rural segment will continue to be substantial for many more decades beyond the middle of the twenty first century when India is likely to achieve population stabilisation. India will then not just continue to live in its villages but equally in urban centres as well.

The moot point here being that urban renewal needs to become the single biggest priority for any government in India as it battles decay and dilapidation of an enormous magnitude. China was alive to this infrastructural challenge long before anyone else and it built relentlessly. India is way behind the eight ball in this regard. It needs a trillion dollars and more to beef up its sagging infrastructure. About 35 per cent of India’s urban population is constituted of migrants according to latest NSS Survey 2007–08. Migration to urban areas is, therefore, not only the product of opportunities and constraints in the urban centres but is also influenced by alternative forms of spatial mobility emanating from urban transition. Bhagat highlights that in absolute terms, net rural to urban migration has risen from about 11 million during 1981–1991 to 14 million during 1991–2001 and to about 19 million during 2001–2011 at the all-India level. In the past, rural to urban migration was largely directed to big cities and to a few small cities and towns where large scale industries had developed. This trend continues but migrants are now moving to the peripheries of metropolises and large cities which are often devoid of basic services and have largely grown in an unplanned manner.

This remains the biggest challenge for urban policy planners as urban sprawls grow in an uncontrolled and unplanned manner. Agriculture is no longer a means for subsistence for rural families and as the children grow up and refuse to take up farming for a livelihood, the pressure mounts on urban areas. Then there is the small matter of agricultural land itself being sold for pickles and dimes to property developers. The very basis of a farm economy is being systematically dismantled by these measures and this is wreaking havoc on the structure of our economic edifice. Running away from the reality of an agrarian economy without setting up an adequate manufacturing base or skilling of the migratory labour is adding to our woes.

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