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Urban Migration And Its Many Manifestations

The government must rethink urbanization. It will mean a mindset change.

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India is amid the largest rural-urban migration. 

Many policymakers see urbanization as a side effect of economic growth, and a problem. 

And yet, there is not a single nation that has prospered without urbanization, nor any developed nation that is not principally urban. There is a strong correlation between economic growth and urbanization.

An UN study indicates that in the next 20 years ‘rural flight’ and ‘hidden’ urbanization will ‘add, pack and wedge’ 250 million to the urban landscape. The rural population will hardly grow. 

Unaffordable cost of living, unemployment, lethal pollution, & high density has turned habitats into poverty clusters. Migrants are desperate and unable to align in an alien and harsh ecosystem. India’s socio-spatial hierarchy and segregation is deep & wide. 

Regressive social and economic pyramid has left 40% of urban India marginalised, engendering defeatist attitude and digressive behaviour; sparking community conflicts. Policymakers need to discern and fathom the demographic metamorphosis that is underpinning this trend. 

Agri sector ‘sustains’ half the population but contributes only 15% of the value; and is declining. This imbalance has resulted in disparities, influencing urbanization. The pull is largely driven by opportunities. Small size of land holdings, unemployment, lack of infrastructure etc. pushes them to the cities and to a despairing living condition.

There is a silver lining

The economic linkage and connectedness between the urban and rural livelihoods enhance growth. Rural India’s dependence and sustenance on urban markets, and the reliance for services like hospitals, education, credit and commerce etc. is counterbalanced by the urban need for raw materials, cheap labor and sustained food supply. 

A McKinsey Global research indicates urbanization will create 70 % of new jobs, fostering 75% of GDP, triggering a fourfold increase in per capita incomes. 

Our urban operating framework is inadequate

Skewed urbanisation diminishes our human capital and productivity. Social fragmentation overwhelmingly threatens harmony. 

The sordid state of our civic bodies complicates outcomes. With negligible financial autonomy, they fall prey to, and rely heavily on the state governments. A global comparison of municipalities is revealing. The share of local governments’ revenue is 3% (China 25 %). The expenditure figures are equally precarious, spending Rs 1500 (ideally Rs 12,000) per capita on infrastructure and services.  

Urban bodies are neither accountable nor responsible for meaningful policies. This limits their ability to design coherent regulatory frameworks and delivery models. 

Weak, inefficient and archaic operational and rigid financing frameworks provide little adaptability, operational autonomy, maneuverability & innovation to deliver adequate and sustainable urban services. The problems are compounded by the very structure of the municipalities that often overlap and operate at cross purpose with the auxiliary agencies and elected governments, undermining our thriving democracy and making the urban local bodies ineffectual and unsuccessful.

Cities are ballooning. It shows

There is a need to recognize that urban leadership and management is technical, specialized, and largely applied. Urban governance should be the responsibility of a cadre of domain experts. We need to elevate, upgrade and tidy our governance to implement and enhance a robust and effective delivery mechanism to solve real problems. 

Migration affects 250 million, urbanization impacts many more.Creating a robust framework, empowering and reinforcing the urban bodies should be high on its agenda. 

The government must rethink urbanization. It will mean a mindset change.

The PM must drive that change.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Urban Migration

Dr. Vikas Singh

The author is a senior economist, columnist, author and a votary of inclusive development

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