India's massive migration crisisK. Laxmi Narayan, an expert in Indian urbanization, warns that both Indian cities and the countryside are chronically overcrowded.
Allianz Knowledge: What is the state of India’s cities right now?
Narayan: In 1951, the urban population in India was 62 million people, 17 percent of the total population. By 2011, the urban population was 377 million, or 31 percent. By 2025, 42.5 percent of the population will be urban.
Even though the percentage of the population living in urban areas is quite small compared to developed countries these people’s presence is causing a lot of problems: unemployment and underemployment, and shortage of basic amenities like water supply, sanitation, sewerage, and electricity.
The main problem is housing. Cities have very large slum populations. Mumbai has almost 50 percent of the population living in slums, even though the per capita income is quite high. Kolkata has 32 percent of the population living in slums. As per the 2001 census, the total slum population in urban India was 42.6 million, 15 percent of urban India’s population.
Why do Indians migrate to cities in such numbers?
Large numbers of young people are migrating because rural India is saturated and cannot provide employment opportunities for a growing population.
Many end up as rag pickers or casual construction workers. Many don’t get employment throughout the year and commute between urban and rural areas. After the harvest, they migrate to urban areas for a few months before the rainy season.
They come alone and then bring their relatives or friends. It is a chain migration. These people are also agents of change, who bring new ideas from urban areas back to villages.
Most women migrants have migrated after marriage. In north India, women are not supposed to marry a man from the same village. So invariably marriage means migration.
Joining family members is the third reason for urban migration. First, the husband gets employment and settles. Then, if he can get a decent house he brings his family. Finally, migration for education also takes place.
Why aren’t there enough jobs in rural areas? India is an agricultural society.
Youngsters are not able to get enough land to cultivate. Unlike in European countries, where only the eldest inherits property, here all children get a share in their father’s property. That leads to division of landholdings.
Even at the time of independence landholdings were quite small, but during the post-independence period the population has grown threefold and many landholdings have become so small that they are uneconomical.
There are not many other employment opportunities in rural areas so that leads to migration, not just to urban areas but also from less agriculturally developed states like Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan to Green Revolution areas like western Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
Will urbanization continue at a similar rate?
Actually, the pace of urbanization has slowed during the past 20 years. Between 1971 and 1981 the decennial urban growth rate was 46 percent. But from 1981 to 2001 it fell to 36 percent and then 32 percent.
There are several reasons for this. First, urban areas have become saturated. Cities are not providing enough employment opportunities.
Secondly, the government of India and state governments have taken various measures to develop rural areas. They do not want unplanned migration to urban areas, which lack basic facilities and so various rural development programs have been established.
Why are population growth and fertility rates persistently high?
That is mainly because the government took the initiative in bringing down mortality rates and provided medical facilities. But we have not been able to bring down fertility rates at the same pace.
The main factors contributing to high fertility rates are low levels of education, low per capita income, certain beliefs and practices, and lack of knowledge of family planning. That has resulted in population growth that the country cannot manage.
However, in some states family planning programs have succeeded and fertility rates have come down. These are also states that have higher education levels and higher per capita incomes: the southern states and the western states.
We have reached a stationary population in Goa, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu states. But it will take at least 25 to 50 years to bring down fertility rates in northern and eastern states. The last state to reach a stationary population will be Uttar Pradesh, sometime in the next century.
So India is still a young and growing country?
India is still a young country. We have a large proportion of people in the younger age groups. In fact, that is an argument in favour of globalization.
Now our planners say many countries in the world have become old and they need more people because they are facing a scarcity of workers. If we can educate our young people and train them, and send them to different countries where they are needed, they will help to run the economies of those countries.