Honorary (Emeritus) Professor of the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University, Ashish Bose has written and edited more than 20 books on India's population and development. He talks about the implications of 'Census Towns'.
India had census towns in the 70s, 80s and 90s. What is new this time?
A census town is a big village with urban characteristics. It has been defined by three parameters — a 5000-strong population, occupation and density. But population and density has increased hugely, occupation and commutation patterns have changed and so the same logic does not apply. Five thousand is too tiny a cut-off point for a population of approximately 122 crore. It should be 50,000.
One of the criteria a census town must fulfill is that at least 75% of the male main working population should be engaged in non-agricultural pursuits. Aren’t we missing an important half of the population?
Absolutely. Women are an important part of the workforce. The problem is we are not asking the right questions. We must ask ‘what is your economic activity?’ And we need the full details of economic activity.
Are we planning well enough for urban development?
Urbanisation is on an accelerated mode for sure but it will lead to slum-isation because there is no housing for the poor. The policy of the government simply to discourage migration to the city without taking care of the rural population will not work. The theory that it’s all blind migration — that rural people are flocking to our cities and staying put here — is not true. Villagers don’t just rush to the cities. It’s a well-planned move. The analysis of urbanisation is incomplete without studying all the four streams of migration — rural to urban, rural to rural, urban to rural and urban to urban.
Is a slackening in farming as a livelihood a cause for concern?
Land is shrinking. If land is sold off for non-agricultural purposes, for example, to build housing colonies and more importantly for industries which acquire large tracts of land from villagers to setup new industries. Poor villages are deprived from land they own so that big industrialists can benefit. The compensation paid is never adequate. In the process, the poor villages become poorer.
Are you surprised that Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, WB and UP have the highest number of census towns?
Not quite. The situation in all these states is not uniform. In Kerala, the human settlement pattern is one which merges rural and urban. It is difficult to differentiate urban from rural. In UP, the settlement pattern is very different. There are vast tracts of land without any roads worth the name. However, in western UP the situation is much better compared to eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Like India, China has a huge population, a dependence on agriculture and a trend towards urban migration. Do they do their population count differently?
We have an older tradition of conducting census. The first regular census was conducted in 1881 and since then every 10 years a census has been conducted in India without fail. China has a sort of registration system and strict control over migration. One needs a permit to migrate to a city. Above all there is need for a
systematic and continuous study of urban problems in their manifestations. Fortunately we have now the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) in Delhi which is engaged in such work.