Originally Published 2013-11-20 09:24:15 Published on Nov 20, 2013
In China, villages have the same facilities in housing, water, drainage, medical care as in towns. If the government of India wishes to reduce the migratory flows, then each village has to be transformed to a small town ? at least in infrastructure.
Can we reverse migratory flows to urban centres?
" Recently Sonia Gandhi reportedly expressed her unhappiness at the steady migration flows from rural areas to urban centres despite the MNREGA scheme which guarantees 100 days of paid work to any member of a rural family. Today one should not be surprised at the fast pace of urbanisation because rapid urbanisation is a global trend. Yet in India, most problems of human deprivation can be seen in urban areas. Housing for the poor is a gap that needs to be filled in every metro city.

The growth of slums is the ugly underbelly of urbanisation and it is quite unbelievable that 62 per cent of Mumbai's population lives in the slums. The lack of basic amenities and the squalor make many slums unfit for human life. Yet some slums are quite livable with electricity and proper toilets. Urban slums are a contrast to the idyllic countryside where the rural poor live. At least they have a small plot of land and open spaces and even though they may be poorer than their urban brethren, their poverty is not so visible.

Urbanisation, however, is a trend of the future and no one can stop it unless villages become industrialised and can provide sufficient employment to the growing population. Most villagers who are forced to come to urban areas are looking for manual work and due to lack of proper housing are forced to live in slums. It is also a fact that cities are becoming less and less friendly to the migrant poor and with gated communities and their RWAs, the poor have no place to live other than slums that are far away from the city.

The beautification and gentrification drive in many cities, including New Delhi, has led to the removal of slums to the outskirts of the city. The slum dwellers have to spend time and money to go to their work. Many migrants from villages are therefore going to smaller towns to live and find work as there are not so many rules and regulations about living spaces.

One of the worst aspects of the growth of metro cities and rapid urbanisation is the rise in air pollution. Traffic congestion is also part of the urban landscape. Delhi for example is becoming increasingly congested and during office hours, there are traffic snarls in various parts of the city. In Dhaka, these traffic jams last for hours while drivers patiently switch off engines and wait.

The UPA government tried to encourage rural employment with its MNREGA scheme by offering work for 100 days to the rural poor, but it is not enough to keep the poor in villages. The rural-urban migration happened in China too and they clamped it down by introducing the Hukou system in which people from one part of China could not migrate to another part without a permit and if they did so, they would lose their welfare benefits which they were entitled to in their natal village. China has transformed the whole country into a veritable township with only a few authentic villages in between. Every day many villages disappear.

Chinese villages, however, have the same facilities in housing, water, drainage, medical care as in towns. If the government of India wishes to reduce the migratory flows, then each village has to be transformed to a small town — at least in infrastructure.

It would be good to have several small scale manufacturing units in villages and also have training centres for the youth so that they could be absorbed in the village itself. Otherwise, the youth will move to the cities with their low level of education and skills that will lead them to informal sector employment with low wages and no job security. There is a mismatch between the availability of labour and the demand for unskilled labour and too many people in the market push down wages. Thus attention ought to be given to skill development in villages to enable the youth to acquire some skills before they migrate.

People with low incomes in villages are lured by cities because all aspire to have their children better educated and all want a higher standard of living. The urban wages are much higher in India and that is what attracts migrants. In the near future, urbanization will reach 50 per cent and by 2030, around 75 per cent of India would be living in cities. Right now it is 31 per cent and urban contribution to the GDP is far higher than rural at 43 per cent.

With around 52 per cent of the people engaged in farming, the contribution of agriculture is only 14 per cent of the GDP which goes to show that the productivity of farming is very low. In developed countries with around 70 to 80 per cent urban population, only 4 to 5 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture, yet their productivity is so high that they are able to export agricultural products.

The main reason for low productivity is the small size of land holdings which makes farming a subsistence activity. Distribution of land and land acquisition are thus the most important questions that need to be addressed. Many tribal farmers have lost their land to commercial businesses and have been forced to become farm labourers. They are potential migrants to towns and cities.

Already city infrastructures are under pressure and there is going to be a huge water scarcity in the future as well as problems with solid waste disposal and increase in air and water pollution. More diseases will occur -- both non-communicable and communicable or infectious diseases. Already there is terrible congestion in public hospitals and healthcare remains a problem area in all major cities.

For rural population to become stabilised, there will have to be better healthcare, especially in primary health care centres. Similarly, village schools will have to have better quality of education. One of the main reasons for people wanting to earn more by migrating to cities is to give their children better education. Literacy in urban areas is 85 per cent whereas in rural areas it is 69 per cent.

Rural women also need to earn money in their spare time. A lot of village enterprises have been started and are employing women in garment making and embroidery. Such ventures will make their incomes grow. Villages can be a hub of activity if effort is made by industrial houses to open centres in Indian villages. But the problem is always about finding skilled labour and high transportation costs for transferring goods to the market. If this happens, it will make villages more attractive and there could be a reverse migration flow.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


David Rusnok

David Rusnok

David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW Germany

Read More +