Monday, July 1, 2013


Urbanization is an inevitable step when economic development models world over ignore the rural population and their aspirations. The great divide between urban and rural population is a classical feature of demography in almost every agrarian economy and there was a time when this trend in migration of rural people to urban areas was frowned upon for a valid reason viz the the adverse consequences of its impact on agriculture, especially food production. After all food security is of primary concern and priority in every country and no agrarian economy can afford to do any thing that may contribute to dip in food production caused by lesser land being tilled due to diminishing availability of farm hands. In India more than 70% of people live in over 5 lakh villages, their avocation being mostly tilling the land. However decreasing size of landholdings progressively is making the agriculture a nonviable option and consequently farmers are trying to move to urban areas in search of better prospects and income generating opportunities. Added to these woes many regions in the country face droughts fairly frequently making agriculture next to impossible. Government of India consciously tries to arrest this trend through various farmer friendly policies to make rural living as comfortable as possible. 

If recent survey figures are any indication,  urbanization trend continues unabated in spite of all policy measures and social pundits are intrigued by this fatal attraction of rural people to urban life styles. No doubt that most service and manufacturing industries are concentrated in and around cities where supportive infrastructure exists for smooth functioning of the industry. Naturally the industrial sector seeks able bodied personnel, unskilled and semi skilled to support the shop floor operations at wages not available in rural hinterlands. But in reality these new entrants to the city end up in hundreds of slums living under squalid conditions unimaginable. The quality of life in cities can be terrible and unemployment becomes the norm. Government of India's SRJY scheme is supposed to help these unfortunate people to get trained in different skills so that they become truly employable or entrepreneurial for earning a decent livelihood. How far such policy orchestration has helped is some thing not very clear even after one and a half decades after its conception.

Another interesting aspect of the rural scene in India is the income opportunity deliberately created by the government through its flagship scheme under the MGNREGA which guarantees a person a job for 150 days in an year on projects in the rural area and government has earmarked hundreds of crore of rupees for this scheme. The concept is that agricultural operation is a seasonal one and most rural families are under employed with no income to sustain them. Some of the reports do indicate a limited success of this scheme while there is also criticism that farm labor is getting diverted from farm operations resulting in the dislocation of important activities like tending the plants and harvesting. Government of India comes out periodically with incentives and subsidies to industries which can be set up in rural areas so that local people get gainful employment near there dwelling places. Even these enlightened policies have not proved adequate enough to stem the migration tide that is threatening to overwhelm the much neglected urban infrastructure which is overstretched beyond recognition. Urban India presents total chaos with protected water supply, continuous power supply, lack of houses and transport facilities unable to cope up with the needs of burgeoning population swelling by the minute due to migration of rural folks in large numbers.

In contrast to the Indian situation look at what China is doing with its rural population! Obsessed with fast economic growth through industrialization and factory culture, this country is reported to be building huge cities spending billions of dollars for rehabilitating rural farming population after they were dispossessed of their agricultural land. Farmers are being converted into factory labor by force and compelled to live in sky scrappers, a culture entirely alien o them. Such mass shifting of population from villages to newly built cities is supposed to generate a consumer based economy for which industries are being set up with bias on consumer products manufacture. The philosophy seems to be to entice the citizens to buy more and more consumer goods and thus boost the GDP and the economic power of the nation. Will this model work? What are its repercussions on the people displaced from their natural moorings? What will happen to the food production? Will this lead to massive import of foods in future? Already China has become the biggest consumer of pork and the insatiable thirst for pork meat is leading to its import in massive quantities putting the local pork industry in trouble. Same will happen practically with every food item for which demand is increasing at a fast pace.    

In the mindless pursuit of global economic power the Chines government seems to be replacing millions of small rural homes with high-rise buildings with small apartments, paving over vast stretches of farmland and drastically altering the lives of simple rural dwellers. If present projections are to be believed the number of brand-new Chinese city dwellers will approach the total urban population of the United States! Already China is literally bursting with mega cities, projected as a symbol of its technological prowess!. Why it has not dawned on the rulers of this country that such deliberate "urbanization" will drastically change the character of China in a matter of few years sidelining its earlier policy of making peasants remain tied to their tiny plots of land to ensure political and economic stability. The shift is rather dramatic involving huge costs and its potential to foment unrest in the country side in the coming years is very high. Do the present rulers expect that the rural folks will willingly allow themselves to be used for radical social engineering? What are its social consequences?  Is it going to be the harbinger of another bloody revolution that many devour the country? Only time will tell!

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