Urbanisation in India is taking place at a rapid pace. It is stated that 50 percent of the people will live in the cities and towns by 2030. There are questions raised about the kind of urbanisation happening in the Indian cities. Most of the migration to these cities is taking place from the rural areas which have been in deep crisis over a long period especially after the 1990s. It is distress migration which is flooding the cities with poor people, hutments, slums and insanitary conditions around these habitations.
There is a strong link in between the rural and the urban in India. The sustainability of the urban areas or the cities is dependent upon the resources drained from the rural areas. These resources pertain to water, food, services etc. Even managing the city services like sewage, solid waste witnesses a strong link and conflict in between the urban and the rural.
Cities constantly prioritised over villages
There have been instances where the people living in the country side have fought against their rights being skewed in favour of the people living in the cities. Water happens to be one of the most compressed utility which is fought over by people both in the urban and rural segments. In Maharashtra, the cities get 400 percent more water than the rural though the population living in villages is 55 percent.
There is even a famous saying in Uttar Pradesh that the clean water from the villages is lifted to the cities and their garbage and faeces is dumped back into their clean environment. In the Prime Minister’s constituency of Varanasi there is a strong resentment amongst the villagers surrounding the city for turning their habitations into dumping ground. The villagers of Ramna protested against turning their 85 acre land into garbage dump of Varanasi city. This is a common phenomenon invariably in all the cities. Funny logic of sheer numbers is cited to justify the garbage dumping by saying that the health of 1000 people living in Ramna village is of concern but this should not put at stake the unhygienic conditions of over 15 lakh people living in Varanasi city.
Commons increasingly become private
The drift from the rural to urban has a tremendous influence on the patterns of land use and even water bodies. As the rural turn into urban there is a dramatic shift in all these sectors. The common activities of the rural suddenly change which further leads to change in the social, cultural and demographic character. Interestingly what earlier was the ‘commons’ becomes private. There are innumerable examples of such a phenomenon and how this has happened.
Various urban agglomerates in Delhi are examples of such a phenomenon. The township of Mehrauli grew up around the Hanz-e-Shamsi lake, similarly Bhopal around the Bhojtal. Both the lakes are now lost. Delhi also hosted the famous Najafgarh Jheel (Lake) with a huge natural body that covered 230 square kilometer and drained about 220 square kilometer. It was part of the ecosystem of Sahibi river. The lake was drained out totally in 1960-61. Sahibi river now is nothing more than dirty drain now.
What was termed as the “Non-Abad” meaning places not meant for habitations like the water bodies, rivers beds and their catchments have been encroached in the almost all the cities. These water bodies and catchments have been encroached upon for housing, industries with impunity leading to massive flooding at the time of rains. Examples are many but to cite a few will include the Chennai floods, Mumbai, Srinagar, Gorakhpur water logging, Srinagar and the modern city Gurgaon. In almost all the above-mentioned cities the commons have been encroached upon with the advancement of the city limits into the rural areas. Invariably in all these cities there has been a rob of the commons of the people who had preserved them for centuries. But with rapid urbanisation they have been rapidly privatised and the results are in front of all of us. In Delhi alone, if one goes through the gazetteers one will come across that there were about 90 villages which were termed Shamlat i.e. common property. But with the passage of time all of them have been converted into real estate areas for private aggrandizement.
Generation of livelihood in rural areas important for less stress on cities
The integration of the city with the rural is required with utmost urgency to ensure that the conflicts do not precipitate further. The integration is not just required at the logistical level but also at the level of governance. There may be many models of governance that evolve differently according to the geographical spaces. At the core however, there must be a continuous dialogue in between the rural and urban governance models by strengthening of the district planning committees. These committees have become a refuge of the Deputy Commissioners in a large number of districts.
The present trend of distress migration finds no reprieve and the peasant suicides continue unabated. This continues to put pressure on the cities with more demand for urban infrastructure for transport, housing and employment. The solution suggested by the Government in the country is for privatisation of the utilities which makes the lives of the poor in the cities more vulnerable and despicable. What is required is to ensure that scope of livelihood is generated in the rural areas by strengthening schemes like MNREGA. However, the present budget is not a pointer towards strengthening of livelihood schemes. This will further worsen the inequity prevailing in the cities and the governments will further push the agenda of privatisation of not just of the utilities in the cities but privatisation of the cities itself.