Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rural-to-urban migration strains India's cities

A story in the New York Times a few days ago reported on the challenge that rapid rural-to-urban migration presents for India. One of the challenges is a lack of urban housing to accommodate the millions who arrive in Indian cities each year. One reason that housing is not being developed quickly enough, according to Lydia Polgreen's report, is that for many years, "Indian governments tried to discourage migration to cities by making city life unaffordable and unbearable for new arrivals. 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." But, Polgreen observes, Indians have voted against such ideas "with their feet." One estimate indicates that, in every minute for the next four decades, 31 rural Indians will arrive in an Indian city. That's 700 million migrants over the course of 43 years.

Clearly, Indians migrate to cities because of lack of opportunity and hardship in the rural reaches of the country--what some have referred to as "hunger and desperation" in the countryside. Thus, India's response should include both rural development (to stem the flow) and urban planning (to accommodate it). In a forthcoming article about the challenges arising from rural-to-urban migration in the Indian context, Human Rights and Development for India's Rural Remnant: A Capabilities-Based Assessment (UC Davis Law Review 2011), I call for an end to the separation of "urban planning" from "rural development." I advocate instead joint government attention to development and planning along the rural-urban continuum in response to--and, I hope, in mitigation of--India's urban juggernaut.

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