About five decades ago a man left his hometown to go to a city to study. His journey takes him to several cities before he takes up a job in Delhi. Enroute he learns several languages – Tamil, Kanada, English but never really masters Hindi. In the four decades he is in the city he cannot quite get rid of his Malayalam accent.
He gets married and his wife moves to Delhi with him. She has been to city earlier as part of the Republic Day Parade but to live in the city is a different experience. She learns the ropes quickly, bring up two kids and then begins a working career that lasts almost three decades. Now its time to go home. But where is home? Is it Delhi? Or is it the village where you were born?
Like my parents, lakhs of people in India often ask themselves this question at some stage in their lives. For my grandparents the answer was simple. They lived in their village most of their lives. For me Delhi is my home although I could easily fit into some other city. But for the generation in between – who followed the dreams of the founding fathers, traveled to distant places and settled there, the answers are not easy to find.
And it is going to get complicated as we go along. P Chidambaram wants 85% of country to live in the cities:
In an urban environment it is easier and more efficient to provide water, electricity, education, roads, entertainment and security rather than in 6,00,000 villages.
Does he realize what this means? Given today’s statistics, almost 50 crore (500 million) people will have to shift to the cities. Where are the houses, the infrastructure and the rest of the stuff to support this migration? As is it the urban centres have less to go around as more migrants rush in every year.
Very often grand ideas are floated and even acted upon without a thought. After 50 crore people have lived in the city for their adult life what happens to them? Will they be allowed to go back to their villages? Or will they continue to stay in the cities?
Four decades ago the numbers were not huge. We could still manage it (to some extent). While it is true that rural to urban migration will continue for some time, our policies should focus on creating jobs nearer home. An interesting experience was in Bihar with the NREGA where farm labour that migrated to Punjab during the harvest season, decided to stay home since they were getting paid enough money while working near their village.
Migration is not an easy process whether temporary or permanent. And there are many costs – financial, social and personal. New technologies should help find solutions for people closer to where they are rather than force them to travel in search for a better life.
Now only if we can get Chidambaram off his grand plan……