Urban Futures

UN report predicts 55 per cent of Indians will live in cities by 2050 Half of the world's population is expected to turn urban by the end of this year. A UN report now estimates that cities in Africa and Asia will account for most of the growth in urban population by 2050. However, over 45 per cent of India's population may continue to live in villages, down from the 70 per cent now. In comparison, only 30 per cent of Chinese are expected to live in the countryside, against 60 per cent now. The growth in urban population is a historical trend and India can't be an exception. People have historically moved from rural areas to urban enclaves due to social and economic reasons and aspirational factors. Cities generate more jobs than villages, especially in the organised sector. They have good schools and hospitals, diverse markets, vibrant cultural spaces and are assumed to offer a better quality of life. People naturally prefer to migrate to cities when given the opportunity. The flip side of this trend is that cities can get overcrowded and stretch public utilities. Many Indian cities face this prospect. One way to address this problem is to incentivise reverse migration so that our overcrowded cities are decongested, besides, of course, upgrading the facilities in urban centres. Reverse migration is now a realistic proposition due to social and economic changes and emergence of new forms of technology. Our democratic institutions are now more representative and inclusive thanks to Panchayati Raj. Women and lower castes have a visible presence in local government. Social oppression that forced many people to flee villages to cities is on the decline in most parts of the country. The IT revolution is changing the concept of work and workplace. Many non-metros have benefited from these changes. As local economies grow in size markets too will diversify and more jobs will be created in and around these cities. More small towns could reap the benefits of the emerging economy if local governments pursue the right policies. The task before the government is to make policies to ensure that urban amenities presently available only in big cities reach small towns and even villages. States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu have demonstrated that this could be achieved. These two states have built a seamless network of small towns and villages well connected by roads and communication links. As the Budget has revealed India does not face shortage of capital. The task is to ensure that resources are deployed in the right manner. An urbanised population spread more evenly over a large number of cities would be a better option for the future than a handful of overcrowded mega cities.

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