Headline : Urbanisation key to driving growth engines Editorial 3rd Aug’19 FinancialExpress
Development and urbanisation:
- Development and urbanisation are two sides of the same coin.
- No society in recent history remained agrarian while adequately providing for its population.
- Urbanisation aggregates human activity—aggregation leads to specialisation, specialisation to increased productivity. This enables greater availability of goods, delivery of services, increased wages, and job opportunities.
- Urban areas are engines of growth in any modern economy.
Example of China:
- China is a shining example of how urbanisation drives economic growth.
- China rapidly urbanised from 26.4% in 1990 to 59.2% today, with the impact of dramatically improved quality of life and life expectancy.
- This also has an effect on China’s specialised workforce and productivity improvements—making China a Top 2 economy with nominal GDP of $14.1 trillion.
- In contrast, India is at $2.7 trillion, moving towards the target of $5 trillion by 2025.
India lagging the world in urbanisation:
- The world, on average, is at 55.3% urbanisation, whereas India lags at 34% (see graphic).
- India has been slow to urbanise because of the fixation on being a village-based society.
Leads to inequity:
- Most planners still look to Gandhiji’s sentiments from 1947 on this topic—‘The future of India lies in its villages’.
- Over the last 5 decades, complexity has increased, people’s economic needs and aspirations have grown, and it is impossible to supply adequate resources to India’s six lakh villages.
- Keeping India’s population in villages while being unable to meet their economic needs has resulted in high inequity.
Rural areas with agriculture dependency can only see little progress:
- Rural employment is mostly in agriculture. 42.7% of India’s workforce in 2016-17 was engaged in the agriculture sector, seeing only a 3.4% growth rate and contributing only 17.3% to the GDP.
- Meanwhile, 57.3% of the workforce was engaged in industry and services, growing at 5.5% and 7.6%, respectively.
- The income differential is very high, with the average wages of dependents on agriculture to industry to services being in the ratio 1:3:4 .
- Left unaddressed, this large group of agricultural dependents will always be limited to a sub-aspirational existence—with increasing distress and perpetual dependence on subsidies from the government.
Leading to urban migration:
- Lack of opportunities is also accelerating large-scale internal migration towards India’s few urban growth engines—such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad, and others.
- 2011 Census indicates 43,324 uninhabited villages, presumably abandoned due to migration.
But our current urban areas can mostly only accommodate contract labour:
- Employment is unable to keep up with the inflow.
- Due to high costs, it is uncompetitive to set up industries in cities.
- Without industries to absorb the incoming rural population, they are mostly making low wages as contract labour.
- They can’t keep up with living costs—resulting in a growing urban population with unfavourable living conditions.
Indian urbanisation skewed towards just a few cities and towns:
- The 2011 census indicates there are 7,933 towns/cities housing 31.16% of the population, with an average population of 47,536.
- Of these, 465 towns have a population over one lakh and 53 cities, over ten lakh.
- This means the remaining 7,468 towns must have significantly lesser populations than the 47,536 average.
- The upcoming 2021 census will inform us of the current situation.
Deficit infra in these urban areas:
- Large cities are reeling under the strain of overpopulation, with problems like inadequate infrastructure and rocketing living costs.
- Because of the policymakers’ focus on villages, cities aren’t allocated enough to develop infrastructure to handle their rapidly expanding populations.
Need a systemic plan for urban migration:
- A compelling solution to this unstable situation is the systematic shift of people from rural to urban areas.
- Census data must be used to suitably identify 4,000-5,000 smaller towns all over India and develop them to absorb the rural-to-urban shift sustainably.
- GoI’s Smart Cities initiative has identified 100 cities so far, focusing on roads, solar, water, and control centres.
While expanding to 5,000 towns, certain critical aspects must be incorporated:
- Infrastructure and connectivity:
- From the planning stage, it is essential to prioritise providing infrastructure like roads and airport access, internet connectivity, and other amenities.
- Not only is state-of-the-art infrastructure crucial for quality of life, it also provides the logistical backbone for a productive industrial environment.
- Moreover, commissioning large-scale infrastructure development will also boost the construction sector—another means of mass employment.
- We need strategic investments from both the central and state governments in these towns for parallelised infrastructure development.
- Labour-intensive industry (LII) clusters:
- Creating many LIIs in and around the 5,000 towns is the best way to provide gainful employment to the transitioning population.
- By focusing on the right type of industries—garments, fabrication, electronics assembly, automobiles, so on—this move will also boost India’s export capabilities.
- With focused skilling programs, LIIs will offer excellent income opportunities to the incoming population.
- Even a lower wage than cities will go a long way towards quality of life, especially since living costs are lower in towns.
- Women, who cannot afford to move long distance from home, can also now find employment near their villages and towns, commute and earn a living.
- Governments, apart from focusing investment here, must also provide incentives for the private sector to create LIIs.
- New sustainable technologies:
- While urbanisation improves delivery of services, it poses several challenges like congestion, restricted mobility, high waste production, and pollution.
- India must invest in understanding state-of-the-art technologies and implement them.
- The newly developed towns will have the advantage of getting sustainable infrastructure integrated from the planning stage itself, including:
- Renewables like solar panels and wind turbines
- Planned tree cover to offset urban spread
- Water treatment facilities based on phytoremediation and other plant-based technologies
- Integrated recycling
- EV infrastructure
- Public transportation with last-mile connectivity
- Older cities will need careful planning to incorporate new technologies into unwieldy city plans.
- Planning for capacity:
- Indian policymaking has a tiresome tradition of planning projects based on latest available data—usually outdated—like the previous census.
- By the time projects are completed 5-10 years later, they are operationally overloaded.
- Instead, it is necessary to plan projects for sewage treatment, airports, roads, water supply, and so on with at least a 20-30-year forecast with provisions for future expansion.
- Again, China paves the way—many major airports have received the go-ahead to build a third runway and increase seating capacity by forecasting the demand to 2030.
- Rapid urbanisation is essential to sustain India’s impressive 10-year growth trajectory and meet PM Modi’s 2025 economic target of $5 trillion.
- The proposed network of small towns and industry clusters can become India’s engine of growth and provide jobs at scale, thus improving overall economic prosperity.
- Sustainable urbanisation can be the force multiplier to mobilise India’s potential.
GS Paper III: Economy