10/03/10 3:21 PMBusting Urban LegendsPage 1 of 2http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository/getFiles.asp?Style=Oliv…xt/html&Locale=english-skin-custom&Path=CAP/2010/03/10&ID=Ar02200
Publication: Times Of India Delhi;Date: Mar 10, 2010;Section: Editorial;Page: 22
Busting Urban LegendsIf India is so smart, then how come it is so rural?
France was only 55 per cent urban in the 1940s; so were large parts of Europe. Today, France, Italy and Spain,not to mention Germany and Scandinavia, are only 2-3 per cent rural. This is an indication of their prosperity. LatinAmerica has just driven in to the smart set. Its high speed urbanisation, like a souped-up limo, touched 85 per centat various stretches.What is the Indian story? Contrary to popular belief, most manufacturing plants and workshops in India are invillages, not in cities. Further, the more backward the state the greater the preponderance of rural workshops. Nor is it that these rude rural outfits employ mostly women looking for a second income or pin money. Though thispicture is fetchingly flashed in many NGO brochures, the truth is more complex.The more backward the region, the greater is the proportion of men in villagebased manufacturing units andhousehold industries. In Uttar Pradesh, for example, six times more men than women work in such units. InRajasthan, the figure jumps to an unbelievable 10. Sadly, 93 per cent of our total workforce is in the unorganisedsector and 74 per cent of this is in rural India.So why is rural migration not the answer? Poor people on the margins of a village economy should up and leaveat the first opportunity. Yet urban growth due to migration is steadily declining. In fact, the rate of urbanisation ingeneral went down in the period 1981-2001. We tend to overlook this as our towns are crowded and filthy. But theyare not filthy because they are crowded; they look crowded because they are filthy. Had they been better plannedthey would smell different too.So then how urban is urban India? The mere presence of towns does not always indicate development or prosperity. UP, Bihar and Orissa have a fair number of cities of different descriptions, yet they are all fighting for thelast place. Half the towns of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are really not urban, for agriculture is still the mainstay of their economies. Who would have thought that possible? Weren’t we told that 75per cent of the economy has to be nonagricultural for a place to be considered urban?But wait, this is India! According to our official definition, even if the economic criterion falters, a place can stillqualify as a town. All it needs is high population density and a municipal council or cantonment board. This explainswhy UP with 704 towns still lacks an industrial base and is cloyingly rural.Only a small number of urban Indians is really urban. For example, just 25 per cent of Bihar’s urban populationlives in industrial centres. The remaining 75 per cent is officially urban, but their actual conditions are not. Their routine is still agricultural. The man heads out to his fields at daybreak while his wife stokes her wooden stove. Yet,for the record they are town dwellers, no matter what their real lives are like. If they don’t qualify as rural folk, it isbecause they inhabit overcrowded spaces with a town hall in the middle, like a rhinestone in the muck.If this is the state of our urbanisation, then where are the hot spots and happening places that account for our 8.5 per cent growth rate? There is, of course, the park-facing view. Information technology is doing phenomenallywell, yet this sector employs only three million people. Their scrubbed and healthy looks clean up our sunshine.They live in our neighbourhood and swarm us with their cars. But the stubborn fact still remains: they number onlythree million.