When one thinks of urbanization, one thinks of commerce and industry and housing and other infrastructure requirements for making the migration into cities attractive. A 2010 McKinsey report (http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/urbanization/comparing_urbanization_in_china_and_india) projected that by 2025, India will add 215 million people to its cities, making India’s projected 2025 population 38% urbanized. The 2011 census data shows that we have already reached 31.16%. This figure was 28.53% in the 2001 census. On the background of a 1.3-1.4% annual population growth, migration to cities is therefore, a policy area which receives much attention from planners in India.
A major chunk of migration from rural areas to cities is currently seen in large numbers of poor people coming for work in low paying semi-skilled or unskilled jobs in the construction industry or for jobs as taxi drivers or security guards or such other jobs in the service industry of cities. Another facet of this migration to Indian cities is the observation that the migration of the poor into cities is only by the worker, while his family remains back home in the village. So this kind of urban migration is temporary in nature.
The usually observed fallouts of such temporary migration are the unauthorized occupation of public spaces by squatters or the mushrooming of visual eyesores called slums. Another easy to see relationship exists between single, anonymous and temporarily migrant men in cities and the mushrooming crime.
But when looked at from the migrants’ point of view, the picture may seem a little different and requiring different and thoughtful solutions from planners. Temporary migration clearly does not help much in giving a fillip to upward mobility of poor families in terms of better opportunities to access better schooling or medical care, since these are not available in villages as they are in cities. So why does the migrating worker not shift his family to cities where such opportunities for betterment exist? Beside the obvious issue of lack of affordable housing, I think one major consideration for him is the lack of fair and dependable public services in health and policing-two areas of concern when one is looking at personal emergencies. Back home in the village too, these services are not supportive for the poor, but the families depend upon the close-knit community to help in these emergencies. Moving families to cities takes away this social support, since there are neither any such communities in cities to support each other nor are the services from hospitals and police stations fair and dependable, when the poor need them the most. Therefore, only the worker migrates temporarily to the city to earn better money and remit it home to the family.
Thus, migrations to urban areas in India are not efficient in their outcome as far as improving the lives of the migrant poor is concerned. On the other hand, it is increasing the anonymity in urban societies to a measure enough to scale up crime perceptibly, as most of our recent horror stories of heinous crimes on women and children and also terrorism related crimes have shown.
Urbanization policies in India may find it difficult to formulate policies to create communities needed for for the social support required, instead they could focus on other ways for making city bound migrations more family-based and therefore, more permanent. For this, what is needed in a significant way, are measures to make the emergency public services of policing and health in urban areas, fair and dependable. My earlier posts on the usefulness of crime victimization surveys are one way of making police services at the police station level more people-facing and accountable and therefore, fair and dependable for the poor. The state clearly has a huge role in improving the outcome of urban migrations by giving the same focus to develop these services, as is given to infrastructure in housing and transportation. Such a step will also significantly impact crime control and make cities safer.