Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Urbanisation and industrial growth

KP Bhattacharjee

In 2000, the world leaders met at United Nations and agreed on the establishment of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). They committed themselves to a clear set of targets to sharpen the focus on priorities and chart the course of action. Effective achievement of many of the goals rests on cities and communities; it has been estimated by the UN Habitat that 50 per cent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2020. The sustainability of cities is threatened by global urbanisation.

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The UN has predicted that by 2020 the world’s population will be 8.4 billion and the urban population is likely to reach 4.2 billion. By 2020 the world’s slum population is likely to increase to 1.4 billion. By the year 2025, India will have a population of two billion, and the urban population will be around 500 million. About 60 per cent of the urban population will be living in Class I cities. The migration from rural-urban areas and intra-urban areas also needs to be considered. According to Williamson, a World Bank consultant, India’s cities will grow at the rate of about 3.2 per cent a year.
In West Bengal, with a population of over 80 million, Kolkata is the major city. Its metropolitan area has a population of over 10 million and there is a floating population of one million who come to the city daily to earn their living and use its services but do not pay any tax to the local municipality.
In view of the concentration of population in urban centres, particularly in primate cities, there is urgent need for creating employment opportunities in agriculture, industry, commerce and trade. There is a need to practise intensive cultivation to achieve high yield per acre and at the same time preserving and extending those agricultural fields where two and three crops can be grown annually. Furthermore, agriculture-based industries need to be encouraged in rural areas and on fallow land; such measures will discourage rural to urban migration.
While industrialisation is essential for rapid economic development, it also creates pollution and encroaches on agricultural land. Hence it is essential for the government to earmark in advance land for industries to ensure that such industries do not encroach upon high-yielding agricultural land, housing colonies and water bodies. This also ensures that pollution and climate change is minimised so that sustainable development can be maintained.
This calls for preparing a land-use plan. Basically, land is classified primarily into the following categories: agriculture, residential, open and green, commercial and industrial for making the best use of land for the benefit of the communities and ensuring sustainable development, and this is primarily the task of the state and the local government. In India, the earliest planned use of land can be traced back to 1894 when the British introduced the Central Land Acquisition Act primarily for housing its military and civilian population in settlements adjoining a few existing urban centres and for establishing new towns.
Fertile agricultural land is an asset for the state and the world, hence such land must never be used for industry. Preferably, fallow and wast land are to be used for industry and the state must provide minimum infrastructure there. The rest to be developed by industrialists who can always add the additional costs for infrastructure development to their products. It was wrong on the part of the state government to allow Tatas to choose the land to their liking. Its decision to select Singur is based on economics; it has the basic infrastructure and services; Kolkata, its port and airport are within a short distance and this will reduce their investment and as well as their recurring expenses since the company proposes to sell the car at Rs 1 lakh.
There are many important issues closely linked to the sale and transfer of land, and these are compensation for the evicted, their rehabilitation and total transparency in all transactions. As reported, the Tatas are looking for technical people (among the evictees) and so far they have identified only 24 persons and another 40 to 50 (educated in general stream) who can be trained to work in the general service category. It indicates that only a small fraction of those evicted will be rehabilitated. The rest of them will have to struggle.

Chinese riots

Transparency in all dealings is very important. It is because of the West Bengal government’s refusal to disclose the details of the terms and conditions that has angered the people in general, including those supporting the government. Land acquisition and transfer of land to developers of industry and building complexes involves corrupt practices not only in West Bengal, but also in communist China. “This time, riot by Chinese farmers breaks ground” screamed the headline in Wall Street Journal (Asia edition) on 29 June 2006. The report by Edward Cody describes the corrupt practices of Chinese officials who have admitted that officials paid a low price for land forcibly acquired from the farmers, and then to be sold at a much higher price. A farmers’ riot broke out in Sanzhou on 14 June. Local officials were held hostage by the peasantry.
There is a parallel between these two case studies ~ Sanzhou in China and Singur. It is worthwhile to note how the two states have responded to the crisis. While the West Bengal government has treated the unrest of farmers with contempt, and the protest by the opposition parties with sarcasm, the government in China has treated the farmers with sympathy and has provided additional funds for their rehabilitation. Both China and Bengal practise Communism. But the difference in approach is palpably stark.