Atanu Dey On India's Development

India Cannot Afford Villages

Can India Afford its Villages?” is the title of an opinion piece in today’s livemint.com (a joint HT and WSJ newspaper). The subtext says, “The answer to the problems of our rural economy paradoxically lies in urban development.” If you have been reading this blog for a bit, you would immediately suspect that I wrote that piece. Partly so. I co-authored the piece with Reuben Abraham.

  • http://chrestomathic.blogspot.com Jyoti Iyer

    Atanu

    That is amazing!! Hopefully we should see more like that on LiveMint!

    Jyoti

  • Ravi

    Hi Atanu, I recently read “Small is Beautiful” after I saw a reference to it in your blog. Probably, i did not understand that book compleletley, but it seems to say that villages are better. I am confused. Can you please clarify?

  • hari krishna

    Promised efficiencies in the rural landscape come about from the mechanization of agriculture through non human high-wattage energy. I have not done the calculations, but it will take a phenomenal rate of fossil fuel consumption to automate Indian agriculture – for a country that barely produces any petroleum. Mr. Chandra Babu Naidu, coached by IMF and WB consultants, had articluated the same view during his hightime as the CM of AP. Even the middle class farmers have realized the truth of “no-survival-in-villages” revelation, thanks to whatever (400 years of colonization followed with 60 years of political vacuum) policies, and began migrating to cities – despite being clueless about living in the urban jungles. Come to think of the same for the rural laborers, …what will they do in the cities? Study engineering & join Infosys for a penny a day wage? It seems to me that those of us who had the benefit of well paying life time employment followed with a cushy retirement savings happen to be employed by a countable number of corporations. Rest of us do not seem to be that lucky. Even the cities have their share of the poor, invisible from the shiny glass walls of corporations, windows of Maruti Zens and of apartment bungolows. These urban poor do many things needed by those of us happily punching keyboards for our 1st world masters: they pull rikshaws, unload lorries, work as attendants and salesmen in the glitzy apparel stores and restaurants, sell vegetables, clean homes, pick rags, sell trinkets and small household items on the sidewalks, do petty clerical work for minor industries, repair autos…Seems like the “all urbanize” dream has not worked for these guys and gals. There have been one too many “clean slate” theories about transponding poverty into affluence. The only little problem is we feel overly responsible for all those poor who are not bright enough to crystal gaze into the macro economic trends & apply them to their petty lives.

    On another take, the affluent west has a an economic engine at its disposal, honed to perfection by institutions such as the WB and IMF, to devalue to labor of all those who do not live in Western Europe and North America; hence all people-intensive manufacturing ops can be outsourced to China, India, Taiwan, Indonesia, Jamaica, …works for Walmart, works for Target, works for Joe Smith, works for Infosys, works for me. Where would you outsource clothing for Indians – say for 20 rupees for a decent shirt? And another 20 rupees for a pound of coffee?

    Sorry for the rant; most of us are captives of the urbanization phenomenon that is the hallmark of our times; I only see walking dead all around myself, working as a well paid hitech worker in one of your name brand companies. I do romanticise village life, but do concede that many of us want the simplicity of rural life at the wage level of a successful urbanite. No arguing there. That is what all those highly successful stock brokers and corporate execs do: buy a couple of villas in the French Riviera and Tuscan Italy. Nope, no Gandhians – but simply selfish lazy bums who want to have it every way. Notwithstanding this prototypical urban Indians most of us are, I would like to contend that the “all urbanize” is simply not feasible. The earth as we have lived upon for 1000s of years has a limited density of any given resource. Hoping to concentrate consumption & provision of those resources has been disastrous, if the 100 odd years of the moderen civilization is any indicator. Yep, give me Starship Enterprise – everyone will get a 20×20 room in higly organized megalopolis that can fly to another planet on fusion power, should a meteor ever strike.

    Hari Krishna

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