lives in its villages; it just goes to look for work in the cities.
Across the country thousands of migrants throng to cities in search
of a livelihood, forced by circumstances to adopt a tenuous, arduous,
life style. Today the village is far from being, or even having
any pretensions to be, a self-sufficient unit.
with chronic unemployment, racked by poverty and hunger, families
flee their villages in search of better prospects which, by and
large, are only to be found in urban and peri-urban areas. This
huge movement creates cheap labour for city centres, but the migrant
who been pushed out of his native lands finds himself in hostile
conditions. The vast majority of India's migrant labour force is
employed in the unorganised sector, preferred to local labourers
since they are cheaper and do not develop social relations in their
place of destination. They are deprived of housing, entitlements
to basic state services such as the public distribution system,
and end up living in sub human conditions. Worse, city administrations
have, today, honed in on migrants as the 'culprits' responsible
for the overcrowding and the breakdown of civic order that most
cities are facing and, in ham-handed attempts to stem the rot, formulate
distressing plans to keep migrants from entering the city.
the flow cannot be stemmed. It arises out of the changing dynamics
of rural economics, and can only be stalled or reversed by massive
investment in the rural economy, and the creation of what have been
described as 'agropolitan' districts and centres - an economy that
creates employment for populations where they are.
still employs over 60 per cent of India's labour force, but its
ability to productively absorb growing populations is rapidly declining.
Productive jobs, today, are to be found overwhelmingly in the States
that have been significantly urbanised, such as the highly developed
states of North West India (Haryana, Punjab), Coastal West India
(Gujarat and Maharashtra) and the Southern States (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka).
Businesses in the BIMARU states remain mainly rural, and are afflicted
by very low levels of labour productivity. Indeed, the tide is turning
steadily against rural India and, in 2000, for the first time in
the country's history, more than half of India's national income
was generated in cities and towns - though 71 per cent of the population
still lived in its villages. More and more businesses in the vast
rural industrial and services sector are shutting down, or moving
to urban areas, attracted by better linkages and profitability,
even as the rural economy is gradually strangulated by low productivity
and the lack of infrastructure. According to one study in 2001,
the labour productivity of unorganised manufacturing units in urban
areas was more than double than that of units in the same sector
in rural areas. Thus many small rural businesses are destined to
die, though sectors like wholesale trade, transport, storage and
warehousing have actually employed more people in rural areas over
study on rural-urban migration noted in 2002 that the Government
had, "as a matter of policy", concentrated its investment
and employment in cities to the neglect of rural areas. It noted
further that the little that was spent in villages is "wasted
in microeconomic interventions to help individual villagers and
not the macro-economy of the village as a whole". Further,
the Government has no employment generation schemes for cities;
yet, there are plenty of jobs. In villages there are a variety of
job creation schemes for the poor, but few jobs of any kind to be
had. The reason is, "the Government invests in the macro-economy
of cities and in villages it tackles only the microeconomic level.
It is time the government tackled the poverty of villages rather
than the poverty of villagers. Villagers cannot get rich so long
as villages remain too poor to attract modern industry and commerce."
2005 Budget saw the birth of the Bharat Nirman Project, with numerous
schemes to improve the infrastructure in Indian villages. A comprehensive
rural upliftment programme under the Project committed Rs. 18,334
crores to six key areas - irrigation, roads, water supply, rural
electrification, housing and rural connectivity, including both
roads and telephony.
would be heartening to see that winds of change are sweeping across
rural India, yet there are apprehensions that much that is being
proposed under rural infrastructure extension would eventually benefit
urban centres more, and that it is not linked to the requirements
of increasing productivity in the rural areas, or that it will,
once again, be hijacked by urban entrepreneurs reaching back into
these areas. Thus, across the sprawling landmass of northern Uttar
Pradesh, land is being sold dirt cheap and being snapped up by street-smart
entrepreneurs, who proceed to claim subsides and set up thriving
high technology agricultural and fisheries projects. Village land
is also being bought up across India, either to be colonised by
developers or to be used by the wealthy to set up businesses or
practice the farming of exotic varieties of produce.
evolution of the 'agropolitan' economy lies at the heart of India's
development. With over 70 per cent of the population still concentrated
in rural areas, the country cannot be lifted out of poverty and
backwardness on the shoulders of a small - through rapidly expanding
- urban sector. Hyderabad - and its hi-tech extension, 'Cyberabad'
- developed new office parks, academic institutions, flashy flyovers
and 'highovers', and came to be seen as a beacon, a model of urban
development, an inspirational city, built for a progressive future.
The then Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu, was hailed and feted
by the national and international media as a man of great vision,
leading his state to the gold-paved road of prosperity. In the midst
of all this, thousands of farmers were committing suicide, consuming
pesticides, caught in a wrenching cycle of debt and poverty in the
heartless backwaters of rural Andhra Pradesh. Their plight was ignored
even as Naidu enjoyed the unchallenged status as the poster boy
of 'reforms' in the country, as the "CEO" of a State,
whom The New York Times applauded as the "darling of
western governments and corporations."
the verdict that was eventually doled out to this Chief Minister
was a crushing defeat at the elections. Perhaps there is a greater
lesson here of what comes from the neglect of the poor in a nation
where poverty afflicts hundreds of millions, particularly in rural
bane of India's cities is not the impoverished migrants that are
flooding in - indeed, they may well provide a safety valve, "keeping
a possible revolt by the masses at bay". Investment in the
rural economy could have far reaching impact, not only on increasing
livelihood options and reducing poverty in these areas, but accelerating
national development and checking the rising tide of political unrest
and violence across wide areas.
by the informal sector, deprived of the benefits of rural development,
the life of the rural poor is lived on the margins, in the shadows
of national neglect. Strangely, however, it is only when their plight
is addressed and resolved, and a semblance of dignity is available
to the people of India's vast rural hinterland, that urban India
will actually be in a position to develop its 'world class' cities.
Published in The Pioneer, January