By Daya Krishna
Mahatma Gandhi had declared Pt. Nehru as his political heir, but he found that he had serious differences with him in regard to the role of rural population in the economic development of India.
In 1945, in a letter addressed to Pt. Nehru, Gandhiji had said: ?If India is to attain true freedom, then it must be recognised that people will have to live in villages, not towns, in huts and not palaces.? Gandhiji gave top priority to village development and village industries. He considered villagers as the salt of earth, the sheet anchor of democracy and said ?an age old culture is hidden under an encrustment of crudeness. Behind this crude exterior you will find a deep reservoir of spirituality. You will not find such a thing in the West. Take away this chronic poverty and this illiteracy and you have the finest specimen of what a cultivated free citizen should be?.
Pt. Nehru differed with Gandhiji and said, ?A village is backward intellectually and culturally, no progress can be made from a backward environment. Nehru'sphilosophy of development was derived from Marxism and Marx'sfamous ideas of ?idiocy of rural areas?.? This resulted in a neglect of rural areas and a big boost to the urbanisation in India. Gandhiji was essentially and deeply Indian and spiritual. He understood the age-old spirit of India and stuck to it.
Against a projected requirement of Rs. 28,300 crore during 1996-2001, the actual expenditure was only Rs 5,200 crore which is less than one-fifth of the projected need. Against a projected need of $90 billion for the next 10 years, the amount available is only $10 billion, which is about one-tenth of the total need.
India'surban population rose from 16 per cent in 1951 to 28 per cent in 2001. This means a stupendous rate of growth which is faster than the growth rate of world'surban population. Mumbai, for instance, had a population of 28 lakh in 1951 and was the seventeenth largest city in the world. Today it is world'ssixth largest city, and, in 2015, it will become the second largest city of world after Tokyo. Also, by 2015, three more Indian cities, Kolkata, Delhi and Hyderabad will be among the 15 most populated cities of the world.
Because of the very fast growth of urbanisation in India, the development of infrastructure and services has suffered enormously. The most startling indicator is the housing shortage, which is estimated at 22 million units during the Tenth Plan period. This means that about 1/5th of Indian population is without a shelter! And we are constructing only four dwelling units per 1,000 people in a year as against the need for constructing 8-10 units for preventing further deterioration of housing position in India.
The growth of urbanisation has declined from 3.8 per cent in seventies to 3.1 per cent in eighties and to 2.7 per cent in nineties. In spite of this slowing of the growth of urbanisation, India cannot find money for its infrastructure and services. Against a projected requirement of Rs. 28,300 crore during 1996-2001, the actual expenditure was only Rs 5,200 crore which is less than 1/5th of the projected need. Against a projected need of $90 billion for the next 10 years, the amount available is only $10 billion, which is about 1/10th of the need.
Pressure on services
About 54 per cent urban households do not have access to water toilets and 64 per cent are not connected to public sewerage system. Though 89 per cent of urban population is covered by treated water supply, it is supplied only for a few hours per day. In metros like Bangalore, piped water is supplied on alternate days.
City roads are clogged. Though vehicle population in India rose 80-fold in last 40 years, road area increased by 5 per cent only. In 2004, about a hundred school boys got killed by the raging fire in Kumbakonam because the roads were not wide enough to permit the entry of fire engines. Such type of accidents are quite common in big metropolitan cities.
Urban India is losing on health and hygiene; is having a growing proportion of poor; and the number of restricted activity days of the workers is rising. Urbanisation just does not suit India with insufficient land and low incomes.
The industrialised countries with enormous land, high incomes and strong laws can go ahead with the urbanisation. In Australia with abundant land, a fine on illegal construction is imposed which is equal to six times of the cost of construction. In India laws for preventing illegal construction are being replaced by ordinances. That Gandhiji was correct is proved by what is happening in Brazil.
Research in Brazil has found out that monthly cost to the state for maintaining a person in urban shanty town exceeds the yearly cost of helping a landless labourer. As a result, urban welfare groups there have joined with farmers, unions, and environmentalists to support the landless workers movement, a grass root coalition that pushes for land reforms, as an alternative to the growth of slums in urban areas.
A recent survey shows that extra investment in rural areas generally enhances welfare more than it would be in urban areas because rural communities start from a much lower level of services. For example, an extra year of schooling for an urban child will mean costly college education, whereas for a rural child it means a primary school. Therefore, Gandhiji laid emphasis on Antyodaya for removing poverty, and the management guru Prahlad lays emphasis on the BoP i.e. the Base of a Pyramid, indicating population.