08 September 2005

The urban story

According to the 2001 Census, approximately 28% of India’s over one billion population resides in urban centres. That makes more than 280 million people. As a single collection, it’s the equivalent of a country as large as the US. Providing food, water, shelter, electricity, roads, transport, etc. to a population of this size is no easy task. But, it’s important to do so.

You see, this urban population contributes 60% of the national income. Surely it deserves some special treatment. Compared to rural India, with its massive 750 million, which is still struggling with agriculture, this population is in a privileged position… Thanks to the recent entry of the aspiring urban middle class, which is converting the urban landscape into a picture we had earlier associated with New York or Paris or London.

“What is significant is that these aspirations are also expressed as policies of governance for urban infrastructure and planning, best epitomised in the move to create world-class business centres and high quality roads favouring private transport…” says Rahul Srivastava in a thought-provoking article, “First cousins: The ties between rural and urban India” in www.infochange.org.

But this is only a part of the urban story. That’s because the picture of 60% contribution to national income by the urban population is slightly skewed. It’s not the entire urban population that is responsible for this contribution. Economists suggest that it’s more like 25% of the urban population that contributes 75% of the 60% contribution to national income. The fact is, a great portion of the urban population is poor.

Srivastava adds,
“The poor in India’s expanding urban areas do not get the requisite amount of calories or nutrients specified by accepted Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) norms… that absorption and assimilation of food by the urban poor is further impaired by non-food factors such as inadequate sanitation facilities, insufficient housing and woeful access to clean drinking water.”

The article presents some statistics worth considering:
“…more than 21% of India’s urban population lives in slums, 23% of urban households do not have access to toilet facilities and nearly 8% of urban households are unable to find safe drinking water.”

As Srivastava says,
“In many ways the above description reminds us painfully of the situation in many rural areas as well.”

No comments: