Nitin Rao

Can India Afford Its Villages?

Reuben AbrahamAtanu Dey, chief economist at Netcore Solutions in Mumbai and author of the Rural Infrastructure Services Commons (RISC) model and Reuben Abraham (right), director of the Cornell/ ISB Base of the Pyramid Learning Lab at the Indian School of Business make a case for developing urban strongholds instead of attempting to develop all the villages In India.

As they postulate:

India has a choice of futures, say, in 2030. Will the majority of Indians continue to live in 600,000 small villages engaged in near-subsistence agriculture or will they be in living in 600 well-planned vibrant cities (or 6,000 towns of 100,000 population, for that matter) working in non-agricultural sectors and enjoying a rich social and cultural life?

A shift from a rural agro-based economy to a urban oriented industry based economy with its attendant cultural shifts is by no means a new phenomenon. It has happened with regularity in the economic development of many parts of the world. In the case of India, things are made more complex by a history characterized by a traditionally poverty stricken population at the village level and the sheer enormity of size. Imagine that 700 million Indians live in the villages – almost equivalent to the entire population of Europe in 2005 of 728 million!

India’s cities, are no better in dealing with the pressures of a booming population. Largely fuelled by a growing migration of people who come to the cities in search of employment, the largest of them such as Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi are literally busting at the seams. They are ranked 5, 6 and 8 in the world’s most populated agglomerations.

I fully subscribe to the views of the authors that the only way forward for economic progress is to develop secondary cities in India rather than attempt to further grow the tired old metropolis we spoke off. Besides, pressures for jobs in the big cities continue to be a big obstacle for the primarily agrarian-oriented migrant.

The answer lies, I believe, in educating the rural masses such that they are not almost exclusively dependent on agriculture. Hopefully, by dint of a basic education, they can move to the newer cities better prepared to meet the new challenges of urban living than their grandparents or parents.