Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Urbanization - is it a solution to the misery of rural poor?

"Villagers should move to cities for their livelihood and crowd them. Since the government has not been able to provide good living conditions, basic amenities and livelihood opportunities in villages, it's just that these people try their luck in cities, while over crowding them and making the bureaucrats and politicians realize what is happening in the villages."

-these thoughts occurred to me many times when I was working with PRADAN in the villages. However, last year when I was working as an Area Sales Manager in Mumbai, I got opportunities to work in numerous slums here and observed the living conditions here. Although those living her do earn significantly higher than those who stay back in villages, the living conditions here are horrible.

Take, for example, Qureshi Nagar slums in Kurla East. Next to the Kurla railway station, this slum has got a central road with thickly populated neighborhoods on both sides. There are no drains and no sanitary facilities in most of these shanties. On side of the road is full of doctors, and the other full of butchers. Road itself is occupied by the vegetable sellers. Household garbage, rotten vegetables and remnants of butchered chicken and goat – it’s all dumped along the road. This, with the dense population and malnutrition, leads to loads of ill people. Result, for every one of 12-15 butchers sitting on one side of the central road, there is a doctor (quack most of the times) on the other side of the road, with rocking business.

Another case in point is the tea stall on the Mumbai local train platforms. If you look carefully, there is a wooded ladder next to each of these 10 ft X 6 ft stalls. If one climbs up, one would find thin mattresses, strings on which clothes are hanging and in some case a small table fan. This is all that 5-6 poor people have in the world on their name. They work in tea stalls in the day; sleep on its roof in night. They use the railway lines as their toilets and railway water pipes to bathe. They eat from the tea stall, save most of the money to send it home.

Net net, for the poor, choosing between village and city is the question of devil and deep sea. Most often, it's not possible for the rural poor to simply migrate to cities and live happily ever after.