Cities and villages – where will students of today work?

By – Dr. Amir Ullah Khan


The total number of villages in India have remained more or less constant, we now have 6.45 lakh villages compared to 6.40 in 2001. The question is where do we see people migrating to?  It was in 2010 that the UN declared Delhi and the National Capital Territory as the second largest urban area in the world, behind only Tokyo. Delhi has become  our biggest city with 2.16 crore people, an increase of 41% over its 15.5 million people in 2001. However, what is baffling is that  our large cities have grown slower than expected. total population in Delhi fell short of the UN projection by one million. Contrary to all calculations, Delhi has become bigger than Bombay, a city that was always expected to be our biggest with its industry and its locational advantages.  Mumbai has 1.9 crores people as its population only grew by 14% between 2001 and 2011. While Delhi has 10 lakh lesser people than projected, Mumbai has 15 lakh lesser people. Further, Calcutta grew only by 7% and Chennai by 35% over the last decade. Hyderabad and Bangalore have grown by 40 percent and 49 per cent respectively, somewhat close to the projections.


How do we explain this? Are people not migrating to big cities as imagined by many of us? The fact is that all our cities have grown slower than imagined. Surprisingly the cities that grew by more than 100% over the ten year period between 2001 an 2011 are Kozhikode, Kannur, Kollam, Thirussur, Trivandrum and Mallapuram, all in Kerala. The only other cities that grow appreciably are Surat and Virar.  India remains a predominantly rural nation. Only 31% of the population of India lives in urban areas. Urban migration goes on but at a considerably slower rate than anywhere else, including in China. As a result the UN has now revised its projections downwards and estimates that urban population of India will be less than 35% in 2020 and approximately 40% in 2030. All this while globally the urban population would rise to nearly 50% by 2040 and 60 per cent by 2050.


What does this mean to the country and to its economy? Firstly, it means that there is some strong disincentive for people to migrate to large cities. The fastest migration we saw was in the seventies and since then the rate of migration has been declining. Our large cities have become difficult to live in, they do not have jobs any more for the unskilled and even for the semi skilled, they are far too expensive and unfriendly. This means that our rate of urbanisation is well below what Europe saw in the nineteenth century and Latin America in the twentieth centuries. We are going to see more people live in rural areas than any other middle income country in the world.


Secondly this will also mean easier access for our consumer goods firms. The distribution model can now look at reaching out to a fraction of the 6.5 lakh villages and with development on the digital and optical front, it will be possible to reach villages through e commerce platform. On the other hand, larger villages will be more demanding and will exert greater pressure on the government. Their bargaining power when elections come will be so much more and elected representatives will need to be answerable at all times. Non farm employment will increase further and the education sector will be under stress as demand goes up.


Finally, we must now make our large villages and smaller towns the focus of public expenditure. These small semi urban towns and large villages are at the moment barely holding together and will need huge investments in education, health and infrastructure . Any neglect there will mean leaving fifty percent of the population bereft of amenities and services. More and more people, with better rural roads, will like to live in bigger habitations that offer digital services, electricity and bigger markets. These new spaces will be where the students of today will work for and make their careers in.

Visit Presidency University Blog for interesting facts