As they say, in India, politics is a sewer. It is full of filth and all sorts of evil. Communalism, fake secularism, regional parochialism, and a lot more isms that keep a common man a mile away from it, are its calling cards. Yet, when Raj Thackeray said, that ‘Bhaiyas’ (People from UP/Bihar) are creating slums in Mumbai, the heart of our ultra-humanitarian divas sitting in air conditioned studios, went black and blue with hurt. They cried foul, declared raj as reincarnation of Mussolini and Hitler and what not, and pontificated around ‘politics of hate’ rather than figuring out the validity of the statement, if any.
But, he was right. Not narrowing it down to the people of the two states, but he was right about migrants creating slums.
Having been brought up in Ahmedabad, with hardly any slums around; just a few too small ones, to garner attention, I really didn’t understand what slums are. After moving to Mumbai, I was flabbergasted. Even the posh most areas had a slum, and a swanky, 5 crores worth bungalow had slum-dwellers as neighbours. So, Raj may have blamed ‘Bhaiyas’ for the slums, to score political brownie points, but the problem is real.
For a decade now, urbanisation is happening at a record pace. In the last nine years alone, the farmer population of India has dwindled by nine million: that is 90 lacs. More and more people are moving to the cities in their state or other states. As per some government studies, in next 15-20 years, India will witness history’s biggest rural to urban migration. McKinsey predicted that 59 crore Indians, or 40 per cent of the population, would live in cities by 2030. A lot of this migration will be of the ultra-poor rural population, who struggle to find better avenues, which rural areas fail to provide.
Now, when these people move to urban set-up, the problems they face are:
- Defunct PDS, growing inflation: They cannot get food grains etc. from Public Distribution System (PDS), as the system has been defunct for decades now. Even with a semi-functional system, the formalities and the public systems make it almost impossible for ‘migrants’ to purchase from PDS. And if they move to another state, it is impossible to attain anything from PDS. Thus, they are compelled to purchase from market, which is getting costlier with inflation induced rise in price, shrinking the purchasing power.
- Purchasing power and social behaviour: Since the earning member is either responsible for sending money home, and/or save, to bring family over or save enough to go back after few years with a substantial amount in hand. This, in turn, shrinks the purchasing power furthermore.
- Rentals and property pricing: Skyrocketing price in the urban areas across the country, makes it impossible for the labour class population, to even own a modest house, unless permanently employed. The epitome of this phenomenon would be the fact that it costs more than couple of lakhs to get a ‘jhuggi’ in dharawi slum, the biggest in Asia.
Thus, increasing food bills, impossible property pricing and shrinking purchasing power are compelling the poor migrants to take it to the slums. There is no framework in place to provide assistance to the migrants. All government schemes, be it of affordable housing, cheap food grains or employment programs, are available to the residents and/or domiciles and not open to migrants. Even worse, the poor sections, really in need of such assistance, are often paperless, making it impossible to create any policy inclusive enough to cover them. Planning commission of India led by supposedly-highly-knowledgeable Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia shows the state of unpreparedness at its best. In the beginning of the eleventh five-year plan (2007-12), it was estimated that the total shortage of dwelling units in urban areas was 24.71 million of which 98% pertained to the urban poor. In twelfth five-year plan (2012-17), the figure has gone up to 26.53 million. So, the shortage of urban housing for the poor, in spite of ‘planning’, rapid expansion of slums and encroachments, on top of legal housing avenues on the free market, has gone up by around 17 lacs.
The unpreparedness of the government, coupled with high rural-to-urban migration, will have spiral, staggering impact on the country’s economy, social structures, law & order, and industrial growth. The lack of framework to address urban housing shortage will give birth to more and more slums, encroaching on public land, furthermore crippling the systems of the cities. With cities nowhere capable to handle even the current population, the increasing rate of migration will completely break down the system, creating wide gap in its law & order, transit and water supply systems. A slum, unlike residential apartments or high-rises, has a social organism of its own. Often, crime becomes rampant, and law and order situation deteriorates more and more.
What India is witnessing, Brazil has already witnessed 50 years ago. The mass migration to urban areas created huge ‘favelas‘ (Brazilian word for slum), with extreme poverty, lack of amenities, rampant crime and alarming law & order situation. Ultimately, Brazil government was forced to disband the favelas and resettle entire population by the millions at the cost of tremendous burden on the economy. Even then, after spending millions, and resettling lacs at government cost, favelas are still growing, and increasingly more and more territories within favelas are inaccessible to police even today.
While there cannot be free-for-all schemes by the government, sponsored by tax-payers’ money, there needs to be a centralised mechanism to identify & assist urban migration, to provide them with legal housing at some cost so as to curb the growth of slums. This is a dangerous suggestion to make, given the Socialist onslaught in India since the Congress took over in 2004, but the way the urban inter-state poor migrants are left to fend for themselves, is a dangerous situation that will unravel extremely unpleasant administrative and social problems.
PDS also needs to be revived, probably with computerised all-India-valid cards to provide the migrants easy access to cheap food-grains, providing the migrants with mobility to hop across states, when required. Computerised cards can identify the issuance to migrants and compensate the state for the same, while keeping the federal structures intact.
Ministry of Urban Housing and Poverty Alleviation, with its funding of Rs. 70,000 crores per year, have introduced various schemes to address this problem without any basic understanding of the issue. The schemes primarily works on giving away urban housing for dirt cheap price, and it does not cover ‘the paperless’ and ‘the migrants’. The government’s money to buy land, constructing houses and selling them to poor at almost free is both inefficient and financially imprudent. No government, with population as large as ours can possibly keep doing this forever. The mind-set of giving away stuff for free is fearfully self-destroying and the entire system needs to be shifted to ‘rent’ basis rather than ‘allotment’. While it is generally agreed that government needs to do something to solve the housing crisis for the urban poor, it is never a sin to get some rent. Government, by its very nature and definition, is a “Socialist” entity, but the mentality that giving away free things to poor concludes the responsibility is unfair to both the poor and the tax-payers, who are exploited to finance these romantic fantasies of free house for all.
All in all, India needs to look at this problem in a whole new manner, throwing away the Socialist goggles that Left-Liberals sitting in influential positions across administration, academia and intelligentsia have forced us to wear. The unproductive and burdensome subsidy-doles-and-entitlement policy just won’t work in 21st century India, as migration has created patterns in housing and food consumptions that are totally incompatible with the way, we have been doing things.