India's Cities Begin To Collapse Under The Strain Of Migrants

After decades of being a nation of rural dwellers, Indians are rapidly moving into cities in search of better jobs, but the housing infrastructure is not keeping pace.

The lack of action to relieve the housing crisis in India's cities seems certain to undermine the country's efforts to 'vault its multitudes out of poverty and share the fruits of its nearly double-digit growth more widely,' reports Lydia Polgreen.

A recent McKinsey report stated that in order to accommodate the massive forecasted urban growth, India would have to build the equivalent of the city of Chicago every year. But no such plans have arisen. Instead, cities are buckling under the strain and illegal housing developments are literally falling apart under the strain of demand.

"The dilapidated state of Indian cities is in some ways by design. For decades, Indian governments tried to discourage migration to cities by making city life unaffordable and unbearable for new arrivals." Now that India's rural populations have voted with their feet, their cities need to catch up.

Full Story: New Arrival Strain India's Cities To Breaking Point



India's Cities begin to collapse..........

The article appears based upon inadequate & misinformation mostly restricted to conditions in Delhi. It credits the government with intelligence and perspective that it does not have.

To claim that the “ the dilapidated state of Indian cities is in some ways by design. … Indian governments tried to discourage migration to cities by making city life unaffordable and unbearable for new arrivals.” is to draw erroneous conclusions from the chaotic urban planning scenario in India.

To claim that “ these policies were driven at least in part by a Gandhian belief that India should be a rural nation, and more broadly by a centrally planned, socialist approach to development.” is to display abysmal ignorance of and misunderstanding of the Gandhian philosophy.
Statements like “the number of floors in most neighborhoods is capped at five stories, and in many areas fewer. The government largely controls land, and government approval for new development is difficult to obtain, even to house the wealthy and middle class, never mind the poor” obviously relate to conditions in Delhi and not other urban areas in the country.

To state that, “the current building codes wouldn’t allow me to do it profitably…..there is a demand that is not being met, and the only way to meet it is by breaking the law.” is to clearly display ignorance of current state of building bylaws in the cities in the country and again is based on the Delhi experience only.

It is more than 30 years that building regulations in India were tailored to suit development of low income housing. I was my self instrumental in getting a new building code (IS 8888 1974) introduced by the then Indian Standards Institution to facilitate development of small affordable houses/apartments.

To state that, “as miserable as living conditions in city slums and tenements might be, they are much better than the ones villagers leave behind. … a recent government report said 65 percent of villagers lacked toilets, while only 11 percent of city dwellers did. Cities also have much better access to piped water and proper sewage” is to display a complete ignorance of the rural ecology and again restrict oneself to conditions in Delhi. If a report says that only 11% of city dwellers lack toilet facilities it is obviously unaware that in Mumbai more than 65% of population lives in slums having meager toilet facilities.

What are slums?

Slums are not the physical edifices. Slums are people

Who are these people?

They are the ones pushed out from hinterland or even from far away lands (as
In case of Metropolis like Mumbai) who,
cannot find livelihood in their own region or
are attracted by the lure of city life, or
want better compensation for work or
have no land to till or
their skills do not have adequate demand or
are outcasts/fear for their life in a caste dominated environment

Why are they pushed out?

Inadequate economic opportunities, or
Craving for “city life” or
Surplus of labour & skills in their region or
Fragmentation of land making agricultural holding uneconomic or
have no skills other than farming or
hounded out by opportunists, politicians, terrorists, upper caste echelons

How to stop the migration to cities?

Spend more on rural development in terms of
farming technology, agro based industries,
physical. socio-economic and health infrastructure
to contain the migration to cities.

Migrant reception centres in cities

Why the city governments and the planners did not wake up to this problem early?
Had there been intelligent and perceptive thinking, cities could have established reception centres on peripheral areas providing “sites & Services” like facilities with adequate transport and may be avoided the squatting on public lands . Even today the only response to the problem is to “regularize” the squatter colonies

Regularization, incentive to further squatting?

Political compulsions of creating vote banks led to regularization of squatter colonies and the word spread among the migrant community that squatting on public lands is the best way to get a free home! So it gave a further impetus to migration

Bankruptcy of vision or deliberate neglect of the problem?

Whatever be the reason the private initiative was quick to realize the “potential” of the squatters as agents to get cheap land. It was rumored that some unscrupulous builders maintained large number of migrants as paid squatters to squat on private lands where after they would offer the owner of the land to get the squatters evacuated if sold the land at a cheap price to the builder

The state/local government wittingly or un- wittingly played in the hands of the developers by announcing the SRA schemes which gave a bonanza by way of disproportionately increased FSI to the developers if they built free houses for the occupants, Just to illustrate , land cost being nil, the cost of a 225 sq. ft slum dwelling with infrastructure, even today does not exceed Rs. 2.5 laks to recover which the builder needs to build only 20 sq. ft (assuming the free flat is sold at rs. 12000 per sq. ft.). It means that the FSI could be increase only by 1/10 of the existing one. Yet, invariably, in SRA schemes FSI in excess of 4.5 is granted

Building of the Towers

The result is the building of the luxury towers bringing in astronomical profits to the developer but loading the local government with the responsibility of providing services ,transport, parking etc to the new development. AND this rich class require domestic services providing a further incentive for increased migration to the city. The vicious circle continues.

What are the options?

Slum improvement –providing minimum essential services like water, drainage, public sanitary facilities and electricity is one option that will not add to the population or load on the services of the local government. Hyderabad has tried it by giving land tenure to the squatters. The greatest disadvantage of this option is that it does not bring glory to the politician or the Bureaucrats and development authorities neither does it transform Mumbai into Shanghai. But those who talk of such transformations and are over enthusiastically implementing SEZs (idea borrowed from China where there is no private ownership of land) seem to forget that China is a totalitarian state.

Prakash M Apte


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