Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

Treating urbanization as complementary in nature

Projections released by United Nations in its 2014 revision of World Urbanization Prospects report predict increase in urban population to 65 percent in 2050 from 54 percent presently. This implies an additional 2.5 billion people living in urban areas by 2050, highlighting the need of urban planning agenda and greater attention needs to be laid on smaller cities where half of all people currently reside.

Projections indicate that urbanization combined with overall growth will contribute to the 2.5 billion jump, with 37 per cent of the projected growth in India, which currently has the largest rural population, China and Nigeria, in that order. The report specifies diversification of policies to plan and manage the spatial distribution of population across rural-urban centres and explicit policy for internal migration, which will be a major contributor to urbanization in the coming decades.

The world’s largest city is Tokyo with 38 million inhabitants, and while its population is expected to decline to 37 million by 2030, it will remain at the top. New Delhi, currently the world’s second most populous city with 25 million inhabitants, is expected to retain that spot through at least 2030, when its population is projected to reach 36 million. However most of the urbanized regions are currently in North America, where 82 percent of the population lives, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean with 80 percent and 73 percent in Europe.  By contrast, Asia and Africa is mostly rural with few concentrated urban regions. Residence to 90 percent of the world’s rural population, countries in these regions will face numerous challenges in meeting the needs of growing urban populations. History has shown that policies that restrict rural-urban migration are ineffective in at averting urban growth and can even produce economic, social and environmental harms. In recent years, a number of nations have been favoring strategies that accommodate development of both the rural and urban sectors. Land rights and land redistribution, creating regional development zones and promotion of economic diversification in rural areas through investment in activities that uplift rural livelihoods.

In the case of India, rural development policies have however been exclusionary, focusing on agriculture led development. Agriculture, on the other hand has been moving north on the path of mechanization, leading to larger exodus of people from agriculture to other professions in industry and services, which are located in urban/semi-urban areas. An estimated 20 million people migrate temporarily each year.  In recent decades, farm mechanization has led to increasing urban migration and non-farm occupations. A key concern is the fact that both rural and urban planners continue to think and operate within narrow sectoral and spatial boundaries.

Data from the UN report shows that majority of the increase in urban population will occur in Asia, specifically South and Southeast Asia. Out of the top ten urban regions, only three are in the Americas-Sao Paulo, Mexico City and New York. This signifies a shift in pattern of development- more south-south migration and higher number of people in the working age group will create opportunities for growth in the developing world. By 2030, the focus will shift towards Asia where most of growth will occur through the expanding urban centres. Out of the top ten cities, Delhi is going to experience 44 percent growth from the current population figure. Mumbai with expected growth of 34 percent stands sixth and Beijing with 41 percent growth is at ninth position. Region wise, Africa is going to experience a spectacular growth of 194 percent for the period of 2014-2050. This is followed by Asia (60 percent) and Oceania (52 percent).

In the particular case of India, its urban population, according to 1901 census, was 11.4%. This count increased to 28.53% in 2001 and crossed 30% as per 2011 census. In the case of India, internal migration has played a prominent role in the increasing size of urban areas, in terms of both population and area, expanding to peripheral rural towns. The case of Mumbai and Greater Mumbai is no different.  According to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, the rate of migration (per 1000 persons) in Maharashtra was 356 for males and 493 for females in urban areas (64th round of survey, 2007-08). Analyzing Census 2001 data for migrants under one year duration reveals that 62 percent of the migrant population in Mumbai Suburban is from within the state. This is followed by Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, with 7.6 percent and 6.32 percent migrant population in the city. However, most of the migrant population survives on the periphery of urbanization.

The pace of rapid urbanization has made it increasingly difficult for urban planning efforts to keep pace with a city’s growing needs. This effectively increases demand for land and housing while supply remains the same, thereby making legal housing unaffordable for the poor. Even if the urban poor are granted the opportunity to apply for appropriate tenure permits, navigating the regulatory environment can be baffling, especially given lower rates of awareness and literacy among the bottom of the pyramid. Additionally, there may be multiple forms of property rights that complicate the issuance of land documents. The emphasis on complementary development of rural-urban areas is confined to research literature. On the ground, migration-led-urbanization has resulted in skewed development, both across rural and urban regions, and within an urban centre, development has catered to a limited few. When we talk of transforming the urban landscape, it inevitably excludes the class of urban poor, comprising mostly of migrant workers. While it is beyond argument that Mumbai owes its rise to prominence as the financial capital of India chiefly to migration, there are substantial barriers to the process.
This exclusionary nature of urban growth is also manifest elsewhere in policies and programs adopted by the state to restrict the entry of, especially, poor and unskilled migrants from rural areas and across the border, particularly those with dependents. Many countries have launched programs of rural development, creation of satellite towns and pushing out of squatter settlements along with pollutant industries to the city peripheries. While it is clear that in the coming decades, urban growth will see a major rise in Asia and Africa, we’re still left in doubt when it comes to effective planning of urbanization, that which encompasses all and provides an infrastructure favorable for migrants to thrive.

In the case of Mumbai Suburban region, its process of urbanization has remained silent on the issue of slum population. In a city, where 41.3 percent of total households reside in slums, such negligence will prove to be an economically costly mistake on the part of the administration. As the UN report mentions in passing, unplanned urbanization will act as deterrence to both rural and urban development. Migration as a process is not which has to be controlled or checked, rather it should be rationalized to ease to process of settlement and earning of livelihood at the destination. Successful sustainable urbanization requires a competent, responsive and accountable government responsible for effective management of cities and urban expansion, where services are available to all by the virtue of them being citizens of the nation.

Aritra Chakrabarty

Aritra Chakrabarty

Anchor, SHRAM (Till Dec 31st, 2014)

As a social researcher, I believe in knowledge-based policy action. With a postgraduate degree in Development Studies, I've been associated with social issues in my professional space. As a part of SHRAMIC initiative, was involved with data creation, sourcing of resources that will become the knowledge bank of this project.
Aritra Chakrabarty

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