Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Update: Villages or Cities

After I wrote the post 'Villages or Cities', I mailed the abstract to Atanu Dey for his reaction. He was kind enough to post a prompt reply to me. He wrote - "...For all I care, India can continue to live in villages and be -- as reality dictates -- be dirt poor. It's a choice we make -- to be poor and underdeveloped. In fact, it can be argued that village life for some is so unbearable that they prefer to live in urban slums -- these are hellholes but still people vote with their feet and live in slums over the life in villages." He has elaborated his views on Urbanisation on his blog 'Atanu Dey On India's Development'. No one can debate his commitment towards India's development and he has his reasons, when he asks, 'Can India Afford Its Villages?'
The main issue here is Development of India, her people. When we say 'development' in context of India, we can't just bypass her villages where almost 72% of people live [Census 2001]. There can be a lot of ways as to how we can achieve status of a developed country. Atanu suggests one of them.
His formula is something like this - The cure for under-development is Urbanisation. Thus, what we should do is, urbanise the village population (not village 'areas', he says). This is not PURA [Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas], when he says 'urbanise', he means 'cities' (areas not people). He wants 600 NEW city centres which will accommodate 1 million people each. Thus there won't be any villages in India. There will be vibrant cities which will provide progress opportunities to the city inhabitants, on the logic of economics of scale.

When I say the strategy proposed by Atanu is flawed, the reasons are -
  • His solution is simplistic and rationalistic. Remember Muhammad Bin Tughalaq, who thought that Deogiri in Southern India will better serve as the capital of his kingdom. He forcibly moved whole population of Delhi to Deogiri, but had to return to Delhi within 2 years. But on course a large population perished.
  • When all people live in cities, who will farm? Will India import ALL the food she would require? Even if we suppose that some people living in cities will also do farming, this will not work. In my village people prefer to stay on farms in season. The farms are typically at a distance of 5-6 km only. There is logic behind this. You get more time to do the work, thefts are prevented etc. When all people live in villages, the distances they will have to travel to their farms will increase manifold. Why the people who want to do farming would want to go to cities in first place?
  • People want to do farming. That is the reason why farmers are rejecting the offers of money and jobs against their lands. It is not only politics. As I said in the original post, autonomy and ownership matter more than the monetary value of the lands. It is like saying 'Be the king of hell, rather than serving in heaven'. If you do not accept this then you are guilty of a biased view and of looking down to rural people as objects who can be moved at will.
  • When you say that cities are better places to live, you measure happiness from your own city standards. The living conditions in slums in cities are worse than those in villages, though the slum dwellers 'vote with their feet' [I don't know what does this mean]. People who prefer slums to villages are a minute fraction of whole village population. If this were not so, there would already have been 600 slum cities in India, with nobody in villages.
Then what can be the answer?
The only answer is Decentralisation and autonomous villages. Gandhiji's ideal of Self-sufficient villages is better and workable than Utopia of theorists. To make decentralisation and autonomy work, Education is must. What happened to 86th amendment act which made Elementary Education as a fundamental right in Art. 21 (A) of the Indian Constitution?
A decentralisation along with Art 21 (A), and complimented by technology is the answer to many of India's ailments.
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