Rapid Urbanization And It’s Challenges

Brief: The research starts with the critique of the design of an Urban Renewal project that was recently executed by the Government of Tamil Nadu, India. It focusses on the concepts of displacement and the loss of livelihood for the Urban Poor, who are basically migrants from less urbanized area who have moved into the city in search of better livelihoods. It criticizes the fact that these people are being pressured into circumstances that not only make them lose their livelihoods (for which they migrated into the city in the first place) but also further decreases their quality of life, with compelling illustrative examples.

This further leads into the questions revolving around migration, labor resource, evaluation of agricultural production in a country that has traditionally been an agrarian economy, the effects of distress migration in the urban landscape and also exploring on the concept of the urban poor.

The project being evaluated in the following section is situated in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. However, the issues analyzed as follows can be said to be true to any Urban Agglomeration being subjected to rapid Urbanization as is the case in most Indian cities.

Slums are treated as an eyesore by the city development agencies and are being relocated where neighborhoods do not exist yet (around 25–30Km from the city — the center of economic activity that has attracted the population from elsewhere to move into the cities, on the promise of a better living conditions), over wastelands (undocumented land)/ watersheds/ drainage catchment areas.

These locations usually lack any civic amenities such as water supply, sewage and waste management, connectivity to the urban centers through a comprehensive network of public transportation facilities (basically to areas that the people have been ‘relocated’/evicted from), opportunities for economic growth/sustainability (jobs which the people find difficult to continue working in after relocation), educational institutions (primary/ secondary level schools), places of worship/community building, playgrounds/parks, social/congregational spaces, etc.

The economic potential of slums are overlooked, on the hindsight of making the cities more aesthetically appealing to the Urban masses. The amount of informal economic activities that slums generate, including that of providing labor for blue collar jobs, household help, lower level jobs connected to the maintenance and the sustenance of cities such as waste management, etc. are being ignored. Moreover, relocation of these slums along the periphery of cities are not only imposing a physical/psychological burden on the slum dwellers, but also on the economic sustainability of the city — Manual labor becoming more difficult to purchase (expensive/rare).

There is a need to access the reasons why the slums have come up in the locations and context that they have. They have sprouted over time, at a particular location and context, owing to the promise of income generation for the ‘unskilled’ labor force, and the subsequent use of this income to sustain themselves by the consumption of amenities that the urban centers of today require of us, to lead a comfortable life.

Let us now look into the case of Chennai, which may be very similar to the issues detailed above. The most recent developmental projects that the government has taken up include relocation of these ghettos at Kannagi Nagar, Semmencheri and Perumbakkam, all sites that are far away from the economic centers of the city (the reason for migration of people, resulting in these slums). Also, these are all watershed areas, most prone to flooding even under normal rains during the monsoon (Eg: Semmencheri; Semmen — Red Soil, Eri — Lake or Perumbakkam; Perum — Far, Pakkam — Side).

Moreover, high concentrations of people of similar economic backgrounds, leads to stagnation of ideologies and extremely restricts the capacity for growth/transformation in the environment. The policies of the government that support this kind of development have been seen throughout time. For example, the government allocates affordable housing to people based on their income, such as, LIG — Low Income Group; MIG — Middle Income Group; HIG — High Income Group. The redlining of people by their own government instills in them a sense of differentiation that tends to not fade away easily. Thus, slum relocation/rehabilitation projects end up being an effort to move people out of the communities that they form a part of, rather than bettering their livelihoods.

A Case Study: Perumbakkam

The Master Plan for one of the Urban Renewal Projects undertaken by the Government.

This is the master plan of a housing board project at Kodungaiyur. Slum relocation projects have a much higher density of development, as compared to this, as we will see below.

Non-Compliance to the TN Slum Clearance and Improvement Act and The National Building Code of India — An illegal project by a legal institution; The Government.

The project, implemented by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board (TNSCB), funded by the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), aims at housing 20,000 families living in various recognized slums/ghettos in Chennai, over 120 acres of land. The tenements were unoccupied, until the recent flooding in Chennai, with the government giving hopes to the people that they would be safer in these concrete structures. However, they hid the fact that these developments were severely inundated with flood waters as well.

As per The National Building Code of India (referred to as NBC henceforth), the density of a housing project shall not exceed 150 dwelling units per hectare of land. Accordingly, the Perumbakkam project sited over a land area of 81.2 hectares can house only 12,180 dwelling units. However, 23,864 dwelling units have been approved to be constructed at the site, with a density of 294 dwelling units per hectare. (Source: Civic Action Group, Chennai).

The Government’s ‘Pet’ Urban Renewal project at Perumbakkam.
A total lack of Ventilation and Natural Lighting… Notice the skylights intended to bring in light…

Let us now talk numbers:

23,864 (No. of Dwelling Units) / 81.2 (Land Area in Hectares) = 294 (No. of dwelling units).

107639 (1 Hectare = 107639 Sq. Ft.) / 294 (Density) = 366 Sq. Ft. per Dwelling (NBC requires at least 400 Sq. Ft. of floor area inside a dwelling for it to be deemed livable for a family of five people in the household).

366 x 65% = 238 Sq.Ft. Plinth Area, Note: Carpet Area is smaller than Plinth Area (35% of area minimum requirement for common/open spaces).

238 / 5 (No. of persons per household, mostly higher in slum settlements) = 47.6 Sq. Ft of space per person (Again, this is the Plinth Area, actual area inside the dwelling will be considerably lower).

This small space, which may be claimed (by the government) to be larger than the non-pukka (not concrete) houses that these people have been living in, comes at the cost of lack of civic amenities as mentioned at the beginning of the article, physical and psychological grievances of the people being relocated, as well as the loss of a very capable working class population to the city.

The minimal space between the various blocks of the housing development, creates a series of problems in terms of safety and livability of the tenements. 24 Dwelling units have been built on each floor, with each block consisting of eight floors. Only two elevators have been provided, of which, only one is operational at any given moment of time. Also, the staircases are only 2’6” wide and run around the elevator core (which could act as a duct for the fire to spread, if there is a disaster), which can render evacuation difficult during an emergency.

Also, the structural integrity of the project is questionable, with the site not being allowed to be inspected by the public or organizations interested in the project during construction.

A Compelling Parallel: Pruitt Igoe, St.Louis, Missouri.

The Need To Slow Down Urbanization and Revitalize Rural Ecologies

I would say that if the village perishes India will perish too. India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited. Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as the problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore, we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others.

- M. K. Gandhi

Keywords: Migration, Rural Aspirations, Urban Agglomeration, Politicization of the Urban Poor, Role of Census and Statistics, Marketing Governance, Push towards Urbanization.

What is migration? Why does Migration happen?

Migration is the movement of people from their place of origin to a foreign(known/unknown) place, usually involving crossing over administrative boundaries/setups. This could happen within the state (Rural to Rural; Urban to Urban; Rural to Urban; Urban to Rural) or between different states. A person is considered to be a migrant if his birthplace is different from place of enumeration.

Migration can be seen as a response to diverse economic opportunities that are being made available in the Urban centers. The push towards rapid urbanization, with relatively less action being taken to vitalize rural economies, can be considered as a major factor influencing migration in India. However, if we narrow down migration as an effect of shifting economic opportunities, we will be losing sight of the more dynamic processes that are influencing the widening gap between the Rural and Urban agglomerations. Migration can also occur as a result of prevailing social relations/conditions, instilling a need to explore upon newer opportunities for improved livelihood. Also, an apparent sense of modernity being purported by the Urban masses and the aspirations of the rural communities to be a part of this modernized society can be argued to be an intrinsic factor influencing the movement of people from the rural to the urban centers.

What are the effects of Migration from Rural to Urban Landscapes in India?

Migration results in a major shift of labor resources from the rural to urban agglomerations. We shall look into the urbanization trends that have occurred in the county to understand the implication of the nation’s push towards rapid urbanization (with a case study of the agricultural sector, claimed to be the economic backbone of the country by the person quoted above).

Agriculture (mainly practiced in the rural setting) is a labor intensive activity, requiring a large number of people to work on the same piece of land, to ensure profitable productivity. However, with the movement of people from the rural to urban areas, this major industry that has been the economic backbone of the country (maybe, not anymore) is being neglected. A look at these figures would give us an understanding of the Urbanization trends in the country.

In the financial year of 1950–51, 71.9% of the country’s population was involved in agriculture, that contributed 51.8% to its GDP. In 2013–14, there is only 54.4% of the country’s population involved in agriculture, contributing to a mere 18.2% to the nations GDP (Gross Domestic Produce). Also, taking population census into consideration, there were 370,000 people in the country in 1950; and the country is now home to more that 1,270,000,000 people, i.e., 266,400 people involved in agriculture in the 1950s produced 51.8% of the country’s GDP; whereas, today with over 690,880,000 people involved in the agriculture sector, produce only 18.2% of the country’s GDP. This explains a shift towards the country’s urban aspirations, that has neglected more than half its population from being empowered, to ensure a desirable livelihood — thereby, playing a major role in the process of creating the Urban Poor.

Exploring on the concept of the URBAN POOR.

The discrepancies between the availability of man power and the availability of resources (jobs) to serve this kind of labor need to be explored upon to get a better understanding of the causative factors leading to the manufacturing of the Urban Poor. A country with an emphasis on the development of manufacturing and service oriented industries for its economic development requires labor that can meet the needs of the industries that are being operated. However, a large part of the population that migrates from the rural areas into the urban areas (seeking better livelihoods) do not possess the technical knowledge of serving these industries. Thus, most of the labor is exploited by the lowermost job positions in the informal sector. This means that they are not going to be able to earn enough to sustain themselves in the urban environment, thus, creating the class of the Urban Poor. They may be earning more than what they did in the rural areas, but the cost of living is much higher in the urban sphere and these populations are pushed into living a less desirable life, than the one that they were previously experiencing. This in turn brings down their status in the society that they now form a part of (Eg: A farmer who owned a piece of land in his hometown may now be living in a rented space that is more or less of a shack.)This economic weakening of these populations adds to their loss of livelihoods, which they aspired to attain by migrating to the city.

Politicization of the Urban Poor.

The Urban Poor can be said to be the most vulnerable population (due to their naivety in understanding their newfound environment), thereby being most dependent on the government and its welfare schemes to ensure them of a desirable livelihood. It can also be argued that they constitute the highest dynamic when it comes to the democratic processes of an election in the country. Thus, the manipulation of these populations is considered to be necessary for the success of the political parties involved in the democratic electoral process.

Any welfare schemes being proposed by the government deals with catering to the needs of this section of the society. However, efforts are not made to see these schemes to completion or no assessments are made to determine the success of these proposals.