After the recent fire at a pub in Mumbai that killed 14 young girls, Hema Malini, a Member of Parliament, in an interview complained of excessive population growth, non-stop expansion of urban areas, lack of planning, failure of citizens to adhere to rules, and corruption among public servant.
Her statements—particularly the ones related with increasing population and uncontrolled migration of people from rural to urban areas—attracted a lot of flak. She was seen as insensitive and elitist. But was she?
Urban India has been an unmitigated disaster. 17% of urban Indians live in slums. Among the major cities, Mumbai has the highest slum population, with 41% of its population living in slums. Calcutta is at 30%. But this is only a part of the story. Most areas that do not get classified as slums are congested and have structures that are badly constructed without professional supervision of either architects or civil engineers.
Cities are badly managed. Garbage rots everywhere, road works goes on forever, there is no planning behind how cities grow. They grow into a sprawl irrespective of whether there is public sewage system and water/electricity supply available. Approvals for construction are made merely on the basis of bribes paid.
Even major cities have unreliable or non-existent ambulance services. Without proper emergency services, cities cannot function.
Corruption rules the roost, but it is not just financial corruption. India seriously lacks political and executive leadership. Those in power are indecisive, badly lacking in education, superstitious, and irrational. They are power hungry and financial corrupt to boot.
India simply does not have skill-sets to plan urbanization.
Having seen that rich countries tend to be urbanized, IMF and the World Bank—confusing correlation with causality—are emphasizing urbanization of India and other poor countries to improve quality of life. In these poor countries evidence shows that urbanization leads to crime, disease, and utter dehumanization of the under-class.
When you remove people from their tribal settings, they fail to become a part of the urban value-chain. And once in cities, it is hard to return back to village. They lose their traditional knowledge of how to exist in tribal, rural settings. They end up in crime and disease prone slums. Those who move to cities must live in slums, and participate in heavy labor in extremely unsafe and lawless environment. That sets in place a vicious cycle of crime and immorality.
While cities have massive problems, rural areas are often more tribal and backward. Water, electricity, basic education, sanitation and provision for primary health-care are often conspicuous by their absence.
67% Indians live in rural areas, and are mostly associated with agriculture and associated activities. There is massive hidden unemployment in rural areas. If India must progress out of its subsistence existence, these people must find work in manufacturing or participate in higher value-added activities. However, there is the catch. Indian urban areas are not industrialized, and do not offer higher value-adding jobs. Even when there are vacancies in companies, the rural people, as well as those from cities, are not skilled, disciplined or have work-ethics.
Half India’s population is less than 27 years old. Twelve million people join the workforce every year. Most have no hope getting a job. 26% of Indians are officially illiterate. The situation with those who are so-called literate is scary. Ask your next Ola or Uber driver about his education and he might tell you that he is a post-graduate or an engineer. 80% of Indian engineers are unemployable. 76% of school students cannot count money correctly.
A very large section of the population is not geared towards creating wealth, for India is neither skilled, nor organized. Quite to contrary, it is entitled, a result of continual ratcheting up of populist measures under its democratic system.
The age of robots is at our door steps. The rich world is worried about growing unemployment in their least skilled section of the citizenry. Alas, lack of skills is everywhere in India. With the very best efforts solving this problem will take several generations. India simply hasn’t the time, for the repercussions will come to haunt India much earlier. India’s population at the turn of the last century was 293 million. Today it is 1,348 million. Yes, India does have a population problem.