Historically great civilizations like those of the Greeks and Romans; Mesopotamia, Persia and Mohenjo-Daro , even the Maya, Inca and Aztec were all urban civilizations. The city states of ancient Greece are well recorded in history. It appears that rural populations had been meant almost all over the world only for producing the food required for the urban populations besides feeding themselves(and for producing men for the State’s armies). Because of the density of people in an urban conglomeration communications between people becomes easier and the interchange and clash of ideas conduce to the growth of political systems, economic ventures, prosperity and security and empire -building. It is the cities especially those living on the Sea- shores which were trade centers throughout history, Seas provided the cheapest and the best means of transportation of goods. Benefits of technology are easily available first in the urban centers and later elsewhere in the country. Hospitals, telecoms, entertainment (like broadcasting and drama and cinema), schools and colleges are all more sustainable and within easy reach (affordability is a different matter) of city dwellers and not of the rural folks. When the economies are not so developed, then large number of people are to be engaged in agriculture to feed themselves and the city dwellers.
In all the developed countries we see that agriculture contributes no more than five percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and less than five percent of the working population is engaged in works related to agriculture. Agriculture is a rural profession. Industrialization which took place from the 18th century in Europe and America by-passed India (and China) because of imperial colonial exploitative foreign rule. It is only in the last 100 years some industrializations has been taking place and cities are growing. In our country the contribution of agriculture to the GDP in 1951 was 65% to 70%. It is now 18% and continues to decline. In China it is between 12% and 15% and continues to decline. This is in line with what happened in the industrially developed countries. The difference between our country and the developed countries is what while in the latter industrial development took place over a long period and the migration of the rural populations to the cities took as much time, so that their administration had time to put in place institutions that are necessary for governance and human comfort and welfare. In India industrialization is happening fast since independence. The tertiary i.e services sector engaging educated people is now contributing over 55% of the GDP and it is growing. Manufacturing Industries all over the world are centered in and around the cities. They attract the labour from the country side. It may be of interest to know that when Jamshetji Tata started the first Textile Mill in Nagpur and later in Mumbai he was finding very difficult to get workers. The cities had much less population then. People had to be attracted from the country side. They had to be cared for, housed and looked after. Jamshetji Tata engaged agents to go to the country- side and sell the profession of industrial labour to inveigle the able-bodied from country- side to work in the factories in the cities.
In India while the proportional contribution of agriculture to the GDP has declined from over 70% in 1951 to under 18% in 2010. Those who depend upon agriculture and therefore remain in the rural areas has not been declining as fast. In 1951 the urban population in India was about 15%. Now it is over 30%. The rural population had come down only from 85% to 70%. The characteristic with the rural population now is that those who are educated and have acquired skills, the young are all emigrating to cities and towns. It is the unskilled and the aged who are largely remaining in the rural areas. Since the birth rate in the rural areas is higher than in the urban areas, even with the migration of the educated and the skilled, the rural population is not dwindling as fast as the contribution they make to the Gross Domestic product. No wonder that there is disparity in the Per Capita Income (PCI) in the urban and the rural populations. I reckon that the urban PCI is about seven times the rural PCI. But the cost of living in the rural areas is significantly less than in the urban areas. Most of the cost of living in rural areas is on food grains and since they produce it for themselves, the lower income is not a crippling deprivation. Lack of education and industrial skills confine people to rural areas.
Whether urbanization is inevitable and better is a debatable point. As technologies of information, telecommunications and production (by robots) are extensively used, then it is quite possible that much of the activities that go on in cities can be performed in the rural areas (where the population is) themselves provided that population is educated, skilled and is able to handle the new technologies, machinery and devices.
There has been some talk in our country of PURA — Providing Urban facilities to the Rural Areas. If there are good telecoms all the work in the services sector can be done from anywhere in the world; that is, the rural areas themselves. If the educated in the rural areas can be provided work there itself, then they need not have to migrate to cities for work. A concept, GramIT was developed and is under trial implementation in and around a small town, Bhimavaram in West Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh.
Broadband telecom facilities which normally are first provided in big cities are extended to a small town, Bhimavaram and villages around it, by Optical Fiber upto Bhimavaram and from there, by wireless to villages. Graduates from rural areas in the villages within a circle of about seven km radius from a chosen village are interviewed and selected for their intelligence and industry and communication abilities including proficiency in working with computers. They were given further intensive training both in English and computers and work on computers which would enable them to do the work outsourced by US companies to a company in Hyderabad which has planned to get it done from the villages. The selected graduates in groups of 100 are assigned to a client in the US for offshore work. Before they were actually working for and interacting with an US client, the in-house work of the Hyderabad company was first got done from this rural group. When once it was found satisfactory, they were seconded to the US client. The expense to the Indian company by employing these graduates in situ is much less than if they are to be employed in Hyderabad where the costs of living are higher. Some of the reduced amount in the expense could be passed on to the US client, thus getting a competitive edge.
Providing highly paying jobs for rural graduates within their villages has wonderful effects. So much money is now flowing into the village by way of salaries, the highly paid are living not in the congested and decaying and decease-prone and pollution-affected city but in the village itself; their high pay leads to better living. They want better housing, better roads, better health care; schooling and an improved village life. Thus broadband communications by taking the work to where people are and not moving the latter to cities can reduce if not significantly limit, the migration of rural people into cities. No Indian city or town as it is today, is capable of being expanded and improved to accommodate the hundreds of millions of rural educated young if they are to move for work and better life to the cities. The GramIT project demonstrates that the rural migration of the educated young can be stopped. In the process, the rural areas get all the facilities and conveniences and comforts that are sought in urban life. Commutation is reduced, crime will be much less; families will be encouraged to have limited number of children and give them high quality education which enables them to do the ICT — based work for global companies. Instead of wasting hundreds of billions of rupees on trying to improve the unimprovable present day cities which are already groaning under the weight of ever increasing migrant workers and populations, governments would do well to “rurbanise” that is, urbanizing the rural areas not in the traditional way but by putting facilities and infrastructures in the rural areas that are less costlier than the cities. This is a project which has to be scaled up and tried in much larger areas so that this can be the template for the whole of India to arrest urbanisation.
More importantly there must be ideological commitment to this unorthodox method of containing immigration from rural areas into the traditional urban centers.
While a new idea and a new project can be tried, there has to be a plan executable for the prevention of “slummification” of cities by rural immigrants into existing towns. Middle and upper class life in any city cannot be sustained without “menial workers”, (maids, sweepers, drivers, cleaners, conservancy staff and so on). These are the people who are immigrating into cities because they don’t have enough paying work in the rural areas as agriculture gets more and more capital and machine intensive requiring fewer workers. The hordes of immigrants have no place to live in the cities. They have to have water and electricity and as importantly transportation to places of work. Instead of multitudes assisted by vote-courting politicians encouraging them to encroach upon open spaces like parks or government lands, as such workers are essential part of the human infrastructure that is required for urban life, they should be looked after by the city administration. Long ago the great statesman Sri Rajagopalachari thought about this and had proposed the following line of action. As land outside the city centers is less expensive and less coveted than in the city areas, government should acquire the not so inexpensive land for housing, all the first and perhaps the second generation immigrants into the urban areas. They should provide inexpensive economy housing, protected water, medical facilities and electricity and also schools upto SSLC for children of the immigrants. Such residential areas of the immigrants should be connected to the city centers by roads. There should be free transport available for these immigrants to work in the city. The state may therefore run busses between 7 am and 10 AM and in the other direction from 5 pm to 8 pm. Those who go to city for work may be given identity cards to avail the free transportation. The urban community is thus made to indirectly pay for the services required from these immigrants from rural areas. Like the Gram IT, this idea must also be tried out around a number of cities.
Cost of De-slumming
Dharavi, situated between Bandra and Mahim is the most populated and densest slum in India, perhaps in Asia. It started building up from the 1920s. Poor, indigent, workless from as far as UP and Bihar and Tamilnadu flocked into Mumbai to find work and to make a living at Dharavi. It has now a population estimated to be about a million in an area of just 0.67 sq. miles. It has got only one toilet for 1450 residents. Mahim creek is used by residents for urination and defecation leading to the spread of contagious diseases. It is estimated to have 5000 businesses and 15,000 single room factories, almost all of them illegal, non-tax paying unregistered, Law enforcement authorities may enter but cannot come out alive.
Since 1997 there have been plans to redevelop Dharavi like the former slums (Tai Hang) of Hong Kong. In 2004, the re-development was estimated to cost Rs. 5000 cr. Nothing was done since then. The cost is now estimated to be Rs. 15,000 cr. involving construction of 2.8 mln sq. mtrs of housing, schools, parks and roads to service the existing population along with 3.7 mln sq mtrs of residential and commercial place for sale, the proceeds of which would partially financ the redevelopment. Since the plan envisages the provision of only 225 sq. ft per existing family and it is meant only for the families existing before year 2000, the residents are resisting and the slum grows and deteriorates while the cost escalates.
Every existing Indian city is teeming with such slums to which the workless rural folks are flocking, in search of work as well as to escape the shame of indigence and menial work by high caste poor in their native place. They are willing to do any menial work where their caste can be hidden. Such poor people are prone to crime, smuggling and drug–peddling. Mumbai’s wealth is not a little due to the slums.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Development Mission costing about Rs. 67,000 crores to cover 65 cities, to be implemented in seven years, half of which are already over, will be a futile exercise, a money gone somewhere not known to many, just like the Rs. 26,000 spend in Commonwealth Games — a spectacle in a flash at immense cost. The widened roads with mosques, mazars, crosses and mandirs left in the middle will every soon be filled with vehicles; that will be a fight against infinity for eternity with money going into “black-holes”. The alternative of many new planned cities ( like Chandigarh) under P.P.P schemes is far more desirable, along with “Rurbanisation”, Gram-IT and Rajaji idea of social provision of housing and transport for immigrants to urban areas, the flow regulated by a permit system.
Industries, especially the chemical industries and pharmaceutical should not be allowed to be established in or around cities. The Bhopal gas tragedy should be a lesson for us. The long term pollution by effluents sinking into the soil wherever pharmaceutical industries are located, is a great hazard. The prosperity and dispersal of industry in the US and western Europe is largely due to the existence of an extensive road network. If such road and telecom networks are available throughout the territory of India, it would be immaterial as to where industries are located. By dispersing them over as several states urbanisation enumeration around manufacturing industries can be avoided. In the last two decades manufacturing itself has been widely distributed throughout the world. A finished product is coming out at one place by assembling different parts procured from different parts from many towns and countries distributed around the world. Distribution networks are facilitating dispersed production. Even vegetables and other home consumption items are being procured from several countries in the world and are available all over the world in every place, round the seasons. This is revolution that has come about by advances in surface and telecom advances.
India is following the western mode of economic development. It is lacking in human development in the sense that humans being more and more simply, consumers and money earners. They are not realizing the spirituality of human life itself. Developing countries like India and China have a great opportunity to have a new paradigm of development. Economic development centered around urban areas is de-humanising and de-spiritualising people. This is also leading to our planet becoming rapidly uninhabitable because of rising consumption and exhaustion of earth’s resources and the processes that are leading to the warming of the globe.
As part of the global endeavour to prolong life on this planet, a new paradigm for economic development not based upon urban life but the provision of traditionally city-available facilities and comforts in rural areas is worth trying. This requires statesmanship and wisdom and not politics whose aim is capturing state power and using it self-aggrandizement by use of levers of power. Would men be wise? Would India with its famed heritage of the thoughts and precepts of great Rishis, bring about harmony between scientific and technological development and spiritual life that man, God’s highest creation lives a life in harmony with nature?
(Dr. T.H. Chowdary held executive, managerial and directorial positions (General Manager, Deputy Director General) in the Departments of Information and Broad-casting and Telecommunications, of the Government of India. He was the founding Chairman and Managing Director of India’s Overseas Communications Corporation (VSNL). He was Governor, INTELSAT, (Washington) and Executive Director, INMARSAT, (London). He was Senior Expert of the International Telecommunications Union in Guyana and Yemen and was engaged by the CIDA (Canada) for writing the Green Paper for restructuring of Telecoms in South Africa and for drafting Information and Communications Policy in Nepal. He was Member of the Prime Minister of India’s National Task Force on Information Technology and Software. Dr. Chowdary was Information Technology Advisor in the rank of Minister of State to the Government of Andhra Pradesh, mentoring the State’s extensive programmes for e-Governance, Government to Citizen services (e-Seva), establishment of Internet Kiosks, computer education in schools and colleges and broadband applications. Dr Chowdary was Fellow of Satyam Computer Services and the founding Director of the Center for Telecom Management and Studies and also serves as a Chairman of Pragna Bharathi. He is the author of several books on telecommunications, information technology, Indian culture and politics.
The views expressed in the write-up are personal and do not re?ect the official policy or position of the organization.)