Sunday, February 18, 2007

Disastrous prosperity

Ramifications of current urbanisation is disastrous

The unabashed urbanisation and now the SEZ Act have not only been land grabbing exercises, but these have also resulted in something that is more devastating than ever perceived – a crazy influx of cash to a group of people (mostly farmers) who have never seen that kind of money as they have always lived in utter destitution. The net result is disastrous, whose ramifications are much more than what is visible on the surface. Be it in Vasant Kunj (Delhi) or Rajarhat (West Bengal), or for that matter the farmers who sold their lands in the perimeters of Hyderabad, it is the same story everywhere. This sudden semblance of affluence is invading the otherwise serene and social milieu of rustic India, the volcanic flow of money is causing an abrupt spurt in consumerism. This new found opulence is resulting in an abnormal rise in the standard of living of these farmers, which, under no circumstances, is sustainable and is the villain of peace.

Money, even if in millions, will vanish if it is not put to entrepreneurial use or in savings. And these farmers, who are already opium-like addicted to new age glitters, will soon find it near impossible to give up same lifestyle, as ‘standards of living’, once raised, cannot be brought down that easily. And once this noveau money is exhausted, none of them are literate in the least to be employed in productive ways to maintain the new acquired lifestyle. Even if they do get employed in some lowly jobs, the earnings would be hardly anything to fuel the improved lifestyle. Thereafter, they would resort to the easiest means of continuing such an addictive lifestyle, i.e. crime. A UNDP 2005 public perception survey revealed that a mere 19% of the population felt safe and 33% rated the incidence of public safety as poor and 90% of the respondents felt that public transport was not at all safe. The same report stated that Delhi alone contributed to 24.4% of all crimes within India (and along with Mumbai, contributed to 33.2% of the same). Most surprisingly, Delhi also contributes to 33.7% of all kidnapping cases and 17.6% of dowry deaths across India. Incidentally, for both Mumbai and Delhi, expansion of the cities has always been by the acquisition of lands from the adjacent villages and then by converting them into residential colonies, the same modus operandi by which land for SEZs is being grabbed today. There is another face to this problem. It is not that every village and farmer gets money. The one whose land is too far to be of any use for the city developers, unfortunately – or fortunately – doesn’t get anything, while their more ‘fortunate’ brothers, who have land nearer to the city, become millionaires overnight. This turns a villager against fellow villagers. All in all, if we term the current state of affairs as prosperity then we are at best fooling ourselves.

So am I saying that villagers should not be allowed to become rich? Not at all. On the contrary, what we urgently require is an all inclusive growth strategy where villages become economic activity zones, fuelled by new levels of educated rural youth and ornamented by all necessary types of physical and social infrastructure. Without this, prosperity would be a mirage and disaster a reality.


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