A World Bank suggestion that inclusive growth, albeit unbalanced, can be achieved by encouraging the rural population across the country to migrate to urban areas has sparked off a political debate in Mumbai. Regionalism has been a primary campaign issue ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
The World Bank’s World Development Report: Reshaping Economic Geography, published earlier this month, departed from the assumption that economic activities must be spread geographically to benefit the poor and vulnerable.
The report advocates creating economic hubs in urban areas based on factors like population density closer to economic activity, distance (reducing transport cost) and divisions (fewer barriers to trade).
The suggestion is likely to have a bearing on India because the World Bank has invested a huge amount here through its poverty eradication projects.
The report cites Mumbai as an example, where despite attempts to discourage people inflow, its population has doubled from what it was in the 1980s. How half the population lives in slums as the government did not create adequate infrastructure.
“Governments generally consider World Bank suggestions because it funds several developmental activities,” a senior state bureaucrat, requesting anonymity, said.
It was because of the bank’s directives that governments at the Centre and state have changed its rehabilitation policy for project-affected people (PAPs) and slumdwellers. In Mumbai, PAPs were allotted bigger houses.
Unlike other cities with limited land, the state has not raised the permitted floor space index (FSI) to accommodate urban growth. The low FSI has resulted in supply shortages and high prices.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which has asked for migration to be curbed, said it would rake up the issue again. MNS spokesperson Nitin Sardesai said the city was already overburdened with migrants. “Mumbai is a dying city. The suggestion, if accepted, will make it collapse,” he said.
Urban planner Chandrashekhar Prabhu said the report was incomplete because the World Bank did not consider the social aspects of migration, environmental concerns and depleting infrastructure. “Our cities… have exhausted their carrying capacities. The report defies all logic,” he said.
State Congress spokesperson and urban planner Anant Gadgil too disagreed with the bank. He said a country like India needed to create sub-growth centres, not overcrowded cities with inadequate infrastructure.